I am on my third assignment as a research interviewer. Each assignment consists of recruiting and later interviewing every member of specific households in a specific suburb before specific deadlines. Each household has been randomly selected and cannot be replaced.
The first assignment went pretty smooth, and my response rate was average. The second assignment looked exceptionally good initially, but then surprise cancellations of interview appointments landed me on a disappointing, slightly sub-average response rate.
My current assignment takes place in a faraway beautiful rich mountain town where the air is fantastic, the silence is zen-like, and the landscape breath taking.
Work-wise, however, this one looks bad so far. I am more than a week into the assignment and past several deadlines where I haven’t been able to make contact yet. The contacts I did make were mainly refusals, and my attempts to persuade were futile and made me feel cheap and annoying. The respondents seemed to look at me as if I’m a sneaky marketer trying to sell them vacuum cleaners.
I’m not… and this is social research, not marketing research. The survey informs future public investment decisions so that tax payer funds can be allocated as efficiently as possible. The (processed & safe) data is also available for a range of current and future ‘common good’ type of research projects, and the respondents receive a letter in advance that briefly presents the survey and its purpose.
Regardless of all that, they are either never home or/and don’t want to participate. Duh.
Response rate drama
The response rate is vital for the survey because the type of people who refuse to participate tends to differ systematically from those who accept; and without them the societal groups they belong to will be underrepresented in the data, and the sample won’t be like the population it is supposed to mirror.
So in a sense the people who hate surveys are the most important to interview, because they are likely to be underrepresented in the data already. They are also the most likely to be arrogant and hard to persuade; the ones who scare the fun out of the job. And apparently many of them live in this rich mountain town.
The response rate is of course also vital to me personally because it is a key metric upon which my job performance is evaluated. So right now it doesn’t seem like I am doing a good job.
My supervisor is supportive and says she has heard that this suburb is hard, but I can’t know if my poor results were therefore inevitable, or if my timing / interaction / appearance / competency is bad too. In any case, the poor response rate puts extra pressure on the term’s remaining assignments.