The Technological Revolution in Survey Data Collection

The Technological Revolution in Survey Data Collection

Vasja Vehovar (University of Ljubljana, Slovenia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-014-1.ch185
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Surveys—data collection based on standardized questionnaires— started with censuses thousands of years ago. However, it was only in the 1930s, following some breakthrough developments in applied statistics, that the sample survey data collection approach was widely acknowledged. The possibility of inferring about the total population from samples of 300 or 1,000 units radically expanded the potential of survey data collection. In addition to sampling, survey data collection procedures also rely on a proper measurement instrument (i.e., a survey questionnaire) as well as effective administrative and managerial activities. Since the 1930s, opinion polling has become a major tool of democratic development (Gallup & Rae, 1968). Official statistics have recognized the enormous potential of survey data collection for the fast estimation of crops, industry outputs, unemployment, and so forth. Further, the marketing and media industries obtained a tool to effectively measure the characteristics of their target groups. The survey industry has therefore become an established activity with its own associations (e.g., ESOMAR, AAPOR), codes of conduct, publications, conferences, professional profiles, and large multinational companies generating annual revenues worth billions of dollars (e.g., A.C. Nielsen). Surveys were traditionally performed as personal interviews, over the telephone or in the form of selfadministrated questionnaires. Information-communication technology (ICT) developments introduced radical changes to the survey data collection processes, particularly because the core of this activity is manipulation with the information itself. The early implementations of ICT in survey data collection are linked to computer developments. Mass computerization started with the emerging PC in the 1980s and enabled computer-assisted survey information collection (CASIC), firstly with the introductionn of computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI). In the late 1980s, portable computers started to be used with face-to-face interview data collection, leading to computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI). When personal computers started to become the mainstream, computerized self-administered questionnaires (CSAQ) were implemented in various forms. The last crucial milestone came in the 1990s with the rise of the Internet, which enabled e-mail and Web-based types of CSAQ. This started a new stream of ICT development which is radically transforming the entire survey industry. Internet-based data collection will soon become the mainstream survey mode. Studies for 2005 projected that market research organizations worldwide would generate over a billion dollars in revenue on the basis of Internet surveys (Terhanian & Bremer, 2005). In addition, about 40% of research work in the USA in 2003-2004 was conducted on the Internet (E-consultancy, 2004).
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Several key technological factors have generated major changes in the transformation of the survey data collection industry.

Computer developments were the starting point of other ICT-related changes. They allowed the entering of data into a computer already in the interviewing stage (e.g., CATI, CAPI). This eliminated the need for a manual data input, thereby also avoiding errors in this phase. In addition, they enabled the enrichment of questionnaire design with computerized features. These include interactive questions that automatically adapt to respondents’ answers (e.g., automated skips over irrelevant questions), the real-time control of answers, extensive multimedia support, and several others. These features are especially prominent within the CSAQ modes.

Key Terms in this Chapter

GSM: Global System Mobile, a mobile network that provides all services of fixed telephony in wireless subscribers.

GPRS: General Packet Radio Services, an evolution of GSM network that supports data services with higher bit rates than GSM. It uses the same air interface with GSM, but it supports IP signaling back to the core network.

EDGE: Enhanced Data for GSM evolution, an enhanced version of GSM network for higher data rates. The main difference is the adoption of 8 QPSK modulation in the air interface that increases the available bit rates.

WLAN: Wireless Local Area Network, a wireless network that provides access to subscribers with end-to-end IP connections, known also as IEEE 802.11.

MGW: Media Gateway, the transport layer part of the MSC functionality in soft-switch solution.

MSC Server: The control layer part of the MSC functionality in the soft-switch solution.

ATM: Asynchronous Transfer Mode, a transmission technique that transmits combined information in small, fixed size packets called ATM cells.

UMTS: Universal Mobile Telecommunication System, the evolution of GSM to higher bandwidth services and multimedia applications.

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