Video Communication Technologies in Survey Data Collection

This research project examines data quality, participation, respondent experience, and costs in two promising but not yet widely deployed survey modes that use off-the-shelf video technology and are less costly than face to face (FTF) interviews: video-mediated (VM) interviews (live two-way communication via platforms like Skype) and video self-administered (VS) interviews, in which video-recorded interviewers ask the questions and respondents answer by typing or clicking. This project compares these measures of data quality and costs in VM and VS interviews carried out by the same professional interviewers and in conventional online (textual) self-administered questionnaires, asking the same survey questions to members of a representative sample who are randomly assigned to one of these three modes. Because VM is synchronous and “live” like face-to-face (FTF) interviewing, and VS is asynchronous and recorded but still projects a human face, the project’s comparisons will provide new insights regarding how these decomposable aspects of human contact affect behavior and experience in surveys. The project’s results will reveal the extent to which, and for whom, less costly interaction (live but remote vs. recorded) with an interviewer promotes engagement and data quality comparable to what is found in similar FTF interviews. More generally, the findings will address when and in what ways modern communication modes that reduce social presence and are less personal might be equal to or even more effective than FTF interaction. Findings from this project will provide valuable information relevant to the future of survey measurement and will be of interest to survey researchers in the Federal statistical system and other survey organizations.

Even as survey data continue to be central to public policy and decision-making, survey measurement is challenged by declining response rates, increasing costs, declining trust in survey organizations, and rapidly changing communication habits among the public. Understanding how video technologies could fit into the future of survey data collection is important both because it may meet potential respondents “where they live” and because it may provide a significantly lower cost alternative to FTF interviewing. There is even the potential to reach some members of the public whose location makes FTF interviewing difficult or expensive, but who may well be able to participate in a video interview (e.g., people who live in remote rural areas or members of the military deployed overseas). In comparing data quality across these three survey modes, the project will quantify participation rates, connectivity problems, respondent compliance with the video interviewing protocol, conscientious responding (giving precise answers to numerical questions, thoughtfully differentiating answers), and disclosure of sensitive information. The project measures the potential impact of individual interviewers, feelings of engagement with the interview, rapport with the interviewer, and respondent satisfaction. The project also allows assessment of data collection costs across these modes. Access to and use of video technologies are not universal, and even among those with access some are willing to engage in video interaction while others are reluctant. The project begins to address whether and how the effects of video technologies on survey data collection differ for participants with different levels of prior experience and preference for using the technologies.