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Transitions From Telephone Surveys to Self-Administered and Mixed-Mode Surveys: Aapor Task Force Report

Telephone surveys have been a ubiquitous method of collecting survey data, but the environment for telephone surveys is changing. Many surveys are transitioning from telephone to self-administration or combinations of modes for both recruitment and survey administration. Survey organizations are conducting these transitions from telephone to mixed modes with only limited guidance from existing empirical literature and best practices. This article summarizes findings by an AAPOR Task Force on how these transitions have occurred for surveys and research organizations in general. We find that transitions from a telephone to a self-administered or mixed-mode survey are motivated by a desire to control costs, to maintain or improve data quality, or both. The most common mode to recruit respondents when transitioning is mail, but recent mixed-mode studies use only web or mail and web together as survey administration modes. Although early studies found that telephone response rates met or exceeded response rates to the self-administered or mixed modes, after about 2013, response rates to the self-administered or mixed modes tended to exceed those for the telephone mode, largely because of a decline in the telephone mode response rates. Transitioning offers opportunities related to improved frame coverage and geographic targeting, delivery of incentives, visual design of an instrument, and cost savings, but challenges exist related to selecting a respondent within a household, length of a questionnaire, differences across modes in use of computerization to facilitate skip patterns and other questionnaire design features, and lack of an interviewer for respondent motivation and clarification. Other challenges related to surveying youth, conducting surveys in multiple languages, collecting nonsurvey data such as biomeasures or consent to link to administrative data, and estimation with multiple modes are also prominent.