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The hand delivery of self-administered questionnaires has been presented as an alternative for reducing non-coverage error associated with the mail method at lower cost than face-to-face interviews. This research note draws from experiences using the hand delivery technique (combined with hand retrieval) in rural and small community studies to address practical issues associated with improving coverage, and its relationships with sampling, response, and administrative considerations. It is suggested that while this technique provides needed flexibility in relation to household enumeration options, logistical issues limit its applicability where settlement patterns are dispersed and resources to supplement sampling frames are inadequate. Time and cost outlays are required to maximize its potential. When place-related and administrative conditions can be met, the technique offers promise for reducing non-coverage error and possible sample bias without sacrificing response rates. In addition, it provides opportunities to gain experiential insights not possible with other survey methods.
Researchers often employ general public survey methods for community studies and other inquiries that focus on geographically defined populations. The ability to utilize questionnaire-derived data on individuals and households for analyzing relationships with community factors is dependent upon acceptably low error in relation to coverage, sampling, measurement, and response (Dillman, 1991, 2000; Groves, 1989). Non-response problems associated with the telephone method have increased the importance of mail, but the latter presents unique challenges in relation to coverage. The hand delivery of self-administered questionnaires has been presented as an alternative for reducing non-coverage error at lower cost than has been the case with face-to-face interviews (Dillman, 1991; Melevin et al., 1999).
This research note draws from experiences using the hand delivery method in rural and small community studies to address practical issues associated with improving coverage, and its relationships with sampling, response, and administrative considerations. (1) Insights are drawn primarily from recent experience with the technique in Pennsylvania, but also from studies conducted in the Great Plains and Intermountain West states (Bourke, 1994; Krannich & Albrecht, 1995; Krannich, Greider, & Little, 1985; Krannich & Little, 1989; Murdock et al., 1999). In all these studies, hand delivery was combined with hand retrieval (drop-off/pick-up).
This note is organized as follows. First, the challenges associated with telephone and mail methods are discussed in order to frame the role of the drop-off/pick-up technique. Second, household enumeration options and field experiences are reviewed in order to highlight practical considerations involved with improving coverage. Third, potential advantages of the technique in relation to reducing sample bias are discussed in the context of insights gained through field experiences. Next, response rates obtained in the Pennsylvania study are presented using alternative calculations to demonstrate the success of the drop-off/pick-up method for collecting data on the designated sample. Fifth, administrative considerations are discussed and survey error evaluated in relation to costs. The note concludes with a summary of the utility of the drop-off/pick-up method for rural and small community studies.
CHALLENGES ASSOCIATED WITH TELEPHONE AND MAIL METHODS
Telephone interviews can offer advantages in relation to sampling frame availability and quality and efficiency of data collection. The primary challenge associated with this method is declining response rates (Dillman, 2000; Groves & Couper, 1998; Hox & DeLeeuw, 1994). Such declines increase the probability of non-response error (non-random differences between respondents and non-respondents that could be correlated with variables in the survey). Because the response rate reflects the proportion of all eligible households that receive and complete a questionnaire (Groves, 1989), an understanding of declining response necessitates consideration of both the ability to contact respondents and cooperation on the part of those contacted.
Based on large-scale general public surveys in the U.S. and elsewhere, a trend of decreasing cooperation is apparent (Groves & Couper, 1998; Hox & DeLeeuw, 1994).
Explanations offered for this trend include the increasing prevalence of public opinion polls and marketing surveys, decreasing availability of discretionary time, fear of crime, and privacy-related concerns (Goyder, 1987; Groves & Couper, 1998). These considerations interact with the telephone mode to reduce contactability. Residents can block calls from unidentified numbers, or screen them using caller identification and answering machines (Dillman, 2000; Groves & Couper, 1998).
The challenges associated with telephone interviews, coupled with a broader societal trend toward the use of self-administration procedures for personal business, have increased the importance of mail questionnaires (both in single and in mixed mode designs; Dillman 1991, 2000). However, obtaining general public sampling frames that provide full coverage and complete mailing addresses can be difficult (Dillman, 1991; Melevin et al., 1999). This increases the potential for non-coverage error (the exclusion of households from the population to be sampled).
Melevin et al. (1999) described a technique in which area probability sampling was utilized to define a geographic population within which all households were visually enumerated and mail questionnaires were hand-delivered. Not only did this approach reduce non-coverage …