Survey implementation

How a survey is implemented is crucial to its effectiveness. A carelessly-implemented survey will result in low-quality and unreliable data regardless of the quality of the underlying questionnaire. In general, the features relevant to the effective implementation of any household survey also hold for those collecting information on subjective well-being. These guidelines make no attempt to provide a detailed discussion of best practice in survey implementation, for which high-quality standards and guidelines already exist (UN, 1984). However, there are several points where the specific nature of measures of subjective well-being raises survey implementation issues that are worth noting.

Interviewer training

Interviewer training is crucial to the quality of responses in any survey. However, the measurement of subjective well-being raises additional issues because the subject matter may be unfamiliar to interviewers. This is, ironically, particularly so for national statistical agencies with a permanent force of field interviewers. Although a body of trained interviewers will generally contribute to higher response rates and better responses, interviewers may struggle with questions if they cannot explain adequately to respondents why collecting such information is important and how it will be used. Anecdotal evidence and feedback from cognitive testing shows that this can be an issue with some subjective measures, particularly measures of affect (ONS, 2012). In some cases, respondents may find it difficult to understand why government might want to collect this information and that the concept that the survey intends to collect is their recently-experienced affective state rather than their normal affective state.

To manage risks around respondent attitudes to questions on subjective well-being, it is imperative that interviewers are well-briefed, not just on what concepts the questions are trying to measure, but also on how the information collected will be used. This is essential for interviewers to build a rapport with respondents and can be expected to improve compliance by respondents and the quality of responses. While the notes on interviewer guidelines contained in the question modules provide some crucial information specific to each set of questions, a more comprehensive approach should draw on information on the validity and use of measures of subjective well-being (Chapter 1) and the analysis of subjective well-being data (Chapter 4).

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