Steps to Effectively Conduct Telephonic Surveys

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Posted by: Aishwarya Bhatia
Category: Research and M&E
Steps to Effectively Conduct Telephonic Surveys

High-quality data is the most integral part of the world’s policy-making process. Face-to-face interviews with respondents have been the most reliable interview method for high-quality data with a minimal non-response rate. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, telephonic data collection has become one of the most feasible research methods for many organizations. However, translating face-to-face surveys into telephonic surveys while maintaining the quality and quantity of information can be challenging.  

Below are some of the best practices to ensure optimal data collection telephonically.  

  • Sample size should factor in a high non-response rate (80-90%). 

Even when face-to-face surveys were the only trend, surveyors faced challenges in procuring people’s time and attention. This problem increases exponentially since telephonic calls are easier to ignore and/or reject. This is why creating a sample size that assumes a high non-response rate is ideal. Our experts observed a 10 – 12% response rate in telephonic surveys. After exploring several calling strategies, the response rate peaked at 15-20%. 

  • Prior permissions/appointments need to be taken before conducting interviews. 

Calls received between working hours (9 AM to 6 PM) tend to get rejected more often, so a surveyor must schedule an appointment at least a week before the interview date. This encourages good communication wherein both parties respect each other’s time and account for a reliable exchange of information. 

  • Verbal/oral consent must be sought right away. 

An essential part of data collection is following ethical protocols to ensure the potency of information. The surveyor must seek the participant’s consent to record the consent and the rest of the survey if that is a requirement. 

  • The surveyor must communicate the purpose/objective of the survey. 

It is of utmost importance that the participant understands the objective of the survey and is aware that the surveyor will abide by all ethical protocols during and after the survey. Since telephonic interviews do not allow the interviewer enough time to communicate such nuances, it is good to notify the respondent in a condensed way. Here’s an example of a suitable notice – 

“All the ethical protocols will be followed during, and after the interview. The collected data will be used for research purposes only.” 

  • The interview should not exceed more than 10-15 minutes. 

Respondents experience fatigue in long interviews. Fatigue kicks in much earlier in a telephonic interview than in a face-to-face interview, which is why it is a good idea to limit the interaction to a maximum of 15 minutes to ensure the quality of responses. 

  • The most important questions should be administered first.  

Covering the most critical sections is prudent to avoid getting data affected by a fatigued respondent. For instance, in a livelihood study, the most critical aspects of the study would be: 

  • different sources of income, 
  • expenses of the household,   
  • net income, savings, debt, etc. 

Setting this sequence will allow the surveyor to pace the interview well. 

  • Longer questionnaires should be administered in phases or with breaks. 

Well-structured long surveys include periodic breaks/breathers within their timeframe. This helps avoid non-valid data while also ensuring respondents’ availability.  

  • Avoid back-checks.  

It is common for supervisors to verify the validity of the information collected by the surveyor. However, telephonic surveys make the exercise an impingement on the respondent’s time. Moreover, back-checks should be particularly avoided for sensitive topics, such as intimate partner violence or the prevalence of infectious diseases, as they could compromise the confidentiality of the response and can put the respondent in an uncomfortable situation.  

  • Ensure data backups and internet facilities to avoid losing data.  

An enumerator must have multiple provisions for data back-ups (memory cards, pen drives, hard disks, and other offline storage devices) and internet connectivity to avoid losing collected data. It is helpful to upload data in real time on a secure cloud server, thereby creating a secure backup. Online platforms with functionalities of collecting data offline, in case of loss of connection, and uploading as and when the internet is available should be used. 

  • All preloaded software must be checked for malware and viruses before data entry. 

Many unverified applications send sensitive data to external cloud servers without seeking permission from the user, thereby compromising data security. To avoid this, data must be collected using secure and verified applications.  

For offline surveys, the data collection software should continuously upload the data to protect against data loss while also protecting it from any malware. Sambodhi’s flagship platform- Survey Point, is a software solution that helps collectors ensure maximum data security. It is an easy-to-use platform with a wide range of interactive features that make data collection easy.  

Aishwarya Bhatia, Sambodhi

Author: Aishwarya Bhatia