This was my first day on my new job, where I made initial contact to the first handfuld of households that have been randomly selected to participate in the survey.
Contact starts by introducing the survey, recruiting the household, conducting a short interview, and then making appointments with all household members for the long individual interviews next week.
The implications of Random Selection
‘Random Selection’ may sound slightly random to those who aren’t into Statistics, but the randomness follows a strict mathematical procedure and is a vital condition to ensure that the survey mirrors real life. So once a household has been randomly selected, it can’t be replaced by any other household.
Therefore, it’s my job to keep returning to the same households over the next few weeks: to find those at home that weren’t yet (= the majority), recruit those who hesitate, and to undertake all the long interviews.
Those who see me, a stranger, park in the area every day and walk around and look at houses and note things in my mysterious dark file may reckon that I am either a thief, a spy (in Suburbia? really?) or a real estate agent, but I’ll persevere, and this day was the start.
The first impression of the suburb was how orderly and decent it all looked, and the next was – how socio-economically blended. What looked like rich mansions lied alongside redneck style run down properties with fire-painted cars on front lawns.
I managed to secure one interview + related appointments, which I think is a pretty normal result for a first contact day – most weren’t at home at all. So that was my first interview. It did present a bit of difficulty:
The respondent, once he decided to open the screen door, took to stare me straight into the eyes at all times while I recited my memorised* intro script. His intense stare gradually wiped out my memory, so half through the little speech I forgot what was next and had to grab my laminated script. I rescued the situation OK from there, and my explanations about statistics and why the survey is important grabbed the guy’s interest.
I am pretty sure that’s what most respondents will do: they will look straight into my eyes all the time. That’s what people do when a stranger approaches them at their doorstep and they need to figure out the person’s intentions: they will try to read the person’s personality in the eyes. That’s highly uncomfortable. To look away or let the glare slide down will highly likely send an undesired signal of ‘dishonesty’ and ‘something to hide’, so I’ll need to preserve my personal space & focus in a way that is more subtle than that.
Upsides and downsides
The most uncomfortable aspect of the job is the door sales person like recruitment effort and the required persuasion & insistence… that’s the nerve wrecking part.
The best part (besides being paid) is the vast library I’ll get to build in my mind with snapshots of different family lifestyles. Since the samples are randomly generated from the general population, the families I interview will in principle reflect all families who live in this area, and the majority of them will be ‘normal’ families… per definition.
I don’t understand ‘normal’ very well; in fact I am still not sure what it is, neither in my own nor Australian culture. This work may give a much better idea.
*Big thanks to the dogs for their great patience! They have both been interviewed quite a number of times over the last few days.