Transitioning from Interviewer-Administered Surveys to Online Data Collection: Experiences, Challenges and Opportunities (GenPopWeb 2 Network)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Sch of Economic, Social & Political Sci


Social survey data underpin many important public policy and economic decisions, and high quality data are crucial. Survey research in the UK and globally is currently undergoing a paradigm shift in data collection away from interviewer-administered surveys to online data collection. Social surveys and censuses of the general population are experiencing major transformations, with mixed-mode designs incorporating web and online only panels becoming more commonly used. This paradigm shift is driven by ongoing issues affecting interviewer-administered surveys, such as declining response rates, increasing survey costs, as well as societal trends towards greater technology use, in particular use of smartphones in daily life. The main aim of this network will be to address the challenges and opportunities of transitioning from interviewer-administered to online data collection through sharing knowledge and producing recommendations for high quality online data collection.

Globally and within the UK, there is a big move in the direction of online data collection in a mixed-mode context for censuses and surveys. For example, the 2015 Japanese census as well as the 2016 Canadian Census have moved to primarily online administration. In the UK the Office for National Statistics (ONS) is aiming to collect 75% of its 2021 Census household responses online. A number of existing surveys have also used a mixed-mode approach. Longitudinal surveys are at the forefront of this trend with several major surveys in the UK and internationally already taking, or trialling, this approach. Mixed-mode has also been used for cross-sectional surveys and there is strong interest from government departments for adopting these approaches for existing as well as new surveys. Another major trend has been towards the establishment in many different countries of probability-based web panels.

There is a growing body of experience and evidence about how online surveys should be designed and implemented. However, this is an emerging and fast-moving area of survey practice and ongoing technological changes present new challenges and opportunities. It is of crucial importance to share knowledge and best practice between organisations which design and implement online surveys, as well as data users. This is to ensure that social surveys are designed optimally for collecting high quality data, and that knowledge and experiences are shared, and these are the aims of this network. Different organisations such as academic institutions, data collection organisations, independent research institutes, governmental organisations and other organisations collecting data online should act as a joint front to share knowledge and best practice in order to facilitate smooth transitions between interviewer-administered surveys and online data collection, to improve already established online surveys or mixed-mode designs, to avoid duplicated efforts and therefore to help reduce costs while investigating and implementing the best ways forward in the world of fast-moving technology.

This project proposes setting up a network of partners (GenPopWeb2) which will facilitate this cross-industry collaboration and knowledge exchange between different stakeholders about the optimal designs of general population web surveys. The GenPopWeb2 Network will build on the results of the first GenPopWeb network funded by the ESRC through the NCRM. Since 2014, there has been a lot of research and new developments in this area, and the trend towards increasing use of online data collection has continued. This network aims to address the main challenges and gaps in knowledge which are of crucial importance for transitioning to online data collection in the UK and internationally and to enable sharing of knowledge across industries.

Planned Impact

Data collection organisations are undergoing a paradigm shift and moving towards online data collection.

The network and its final report will enable the collation and sharing of scientific knowledge and best practice in the area of online data collection. Also, as many organisations are conducting various experiments in the area, collating and sharing this knowledge through the web database will help to reduce duplication of efforts.

The report will identify what best practice is and therefore will ease the process of setting up a new online survey or transitioning from interviewer-administered to online data collection, as well as improving existing online data collection. It will therefore save costs and improve the quality of data collected online. Cross-industry collaboration and the final report with recommendations and agreed principles will help to deliver non-academic impact in survey practice.

The network will contribute to one of the core goals of the NCRM which is sharing good practice by bringing together academics and partners from outside academia to ensure and enable non-academic impact.

Network events will ensure collaboration and discussions across sectors involved in design and implementation of online surveys in the UK and internationally.


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