The importance of respondent engagement in surveys

Here’s another important but under-explored factor in data quality — respondent engagement.   Although it is commonsensical that stimulating “engagement” in the survey experience would tend to produce higher quality results,  there have been surprisingly few studies investigating this aspect of research management.

What is meant by an “engaged respondent?”  First, we can assume that a person fully engaged in a task will be more attentive, focused,  likely to take the time to consider and provide more complete answers, and may feel more positive about their contributions, all of which are desirable in research response patterns.  Second, it would be reasonable to expect that such a person would be more likely to agree to participate in future research — an important factor in maintaining healthy, quality panels.
If we were to think of “Engagement” along a continuum from no/low engagement to high engagement,  what are the characteristics, conditions, or elements which are most predictive of an individual’s level of engagement when presented with a survey or other research invitation?
Are there preconditions that influence engagement,  for example,  prior exposure to poorly designed surveys or bad panel management practices?  I would assume it is likely that these attributes would strongly influence attitudes toward survey experiences over time.   Yet at the same time,  it’s probable that “engagement” is even more complex than this.  Variability in engagement could be correlated with demographic/psychographic differences,  the degree to which the respondent relates to the ‘community’ of fellow panelists or respondents,  etc.

One of our goals at Decisive Analytics, as part of our Research-on-Research program, is to untangle the dimensions of respondent engagement to better understand how to motivate respondents consistently,  and therefore produce the highest possible data quality for our clients.

— Dr. Cheryl Harris

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