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Are there too many surveys?

February 15, 2017

 

Here's a new term for you: 'respondent burden'. It was coined some years ago by Judith Tanur, Distinguished Teaching Professor Emerita at Stony Brook University, New York, and Fellow of the American Statistical Association. The term refers to taking too much of a respondent's time in a single survey. As surveys proliferate, people stop giving up their time to complete them – hence declining response rates.

At the Household Survey Non-Response Workshop in Oslo last year, it was shown that response rates for large national surveys have declined across Europe and North America in the last 20 years. In Britain, the downward trend for this British Social Attitudes survey has been from 68 per cent response rate in 1993 to 51 per cent in 2015. Things are worse in Germany – in 2015 just 35 per cent responded to the German General Social Survey. Apparently, a German delegate to the workshop felt that: 'the Nazi’s use of census data had a lot to do with dislike for sharing data with those in authority in his country'.

 

Just say nothing

I don't share the feelings of some German citizens but am concerned at the proliferation of surveys. Most of the 'Please rate our service' or 'Please post a review of your recent purchase' requests I ignore. Yes, even if I'm offered an entry in a prize draw – I know I'll never win and, even if I did, I probably wouldn't want the prize anyway. Given my occupation as a healthcare management consultant, it's not surprising that those surveys linked to healthcare particularly interest me.

 

What are they waiting for?

Looking at response rates for the NHS England Friends and Family Test (FFT) recently, I noted a continuing decline among most GP practices. Interestingly, A&E has experienced a similar decline. Now, we all know the problems A&E has and is experiencing and you'd think that people waiting four hours or much longer would have plenty of time to register their FFT response – apparently not, the latest figures show a response rate barely in double figures. Bizarrely, perhaps, 86 per cent of those who did respond would recommend the service to their friends and family – the overwhelming majority being 'Extremely likely' to do so! Perhaps it is no wonder the Lead Official for Statistics (an unidentified individual) concluded some time ago that FFT data: 'should not be classed as Official Statistics'.

 

We know you're busy but…

And then there's the time hungry surveys. One recently promoted on Twitter (how random is that?) by a Commissioning Support Unit (CSU) asked GP practice managers to take 30 to 45 minutes to complete it online and admitted that for some questions they may want to confer with colleagues. The survey was part of research commissioned by NHS England following a National Audit Office report two years previously. Reading that report, it seems to me the relevant questions were asked and answered – so why the need for research and the (inevitable?) survey.

 

Of course, all this is only my opinion. If you have different views, let me know and I'll send you a survey form.

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