Surveys Research - Choosing Mobile Survey Software

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••• Courtesy of Falvio Tukemoto, Photographer. Stock.xchng Copyright March 14, 2009.

Mobile surveys research technology has made so many advances that it is now competing robustly with online surveys research. Most of the benefits of a mobile platform can be captured in the mobile survey formats. Mobile surveys research technology is streamlined and efficient in ways that other surveys research formats can never match.

Paper and pencil surveys, telephone surveys, and face-to-face surveys will all continue to have some place in the realm of surveys research, but the territory for these formats is rapidly shrinking.

A number of survey software providers were consulted for guidelines for selecting mobile surveys research software and technology. A white paper developed by Techneos was especially helpful. See Techneos' white paper on Making the Right Choice for a Mobile Survey Partner for more information about mobile surveys research providers. Techneos conducts diary research, interviews, and on-site surveys, supplies and works with mobile panels of respondents, and provides consultation for consumer engagement.

Mobile Surveys Research Technology Advantages

Here are a few advantages to using mobile surveys research technology:

  • Valid and clean data can be easily collected.
  • Survey questions can easily be modified as conditions dictate.
  • Interim survey results can be accessed online.
  • Open-end survey questions can be coded online.
  • Survey data can be weighted and analyzed online.
  • Survey results are available in real-time

Advantages of Mobile Survey Technology for Researchers & Participants

Mobile surveys research offers advantages for survey participants, too.

  • Alarms can be programmed into the surveys research design that signal both interviewers and respondents that a survey needs to be completed.
  • Interviewer performance can be monitored in real time, enabling formative feedback.
  • The need to re-key data and information is eliminated.
  • Questionnaire designs can be easily customized.
  • Questionnaire designs can be saved online for future use or modification.

As in any research planning initiative, it is important to begin with a "big picture" conceptualization of what your research entails and is likely to entail in the foreseeable future. Identifying the scope of your research will facilitate the technology choices that will drive the rest of the process. It is important, in this exploratory period, to not allow yourself to be wedded to particular hardware or software options.

A primary decision has to do with the use of the technology. If the purchased technology will be dedicated to research efforts, that variable will drive subsequent decisions. If the technology will be engaged in multipurpose activities, then the hardware platform must accommodate other types of software applications and perhaps even certain peripheral devices. For instance, if devices will be dedicated to research activities and will be deployed to respondents who own a variety of cell phones, then functional choices will be delimited. It will be necessary to determine the most common platform that does not impose barriers to use for any of your respondents.

What You See Is Not What You Get

Surveys research software applications are designed to hide much of the complexity of the background processing. As with any software application, the user interface is designed to be understandable -- if not intuitive -- and easy to use. A user-friendly interface, in this case, must provide for the different points-of-view held by the interviewers and by the respondents.

Another important criterion is whether the data produced by the surveys research software application is ready for analysis with the common statistical packages software applications. Most market researchers have access to SPSS® or SAS®. Surveys research software applications that interface well with these and other statistical analysis software are the most desirable. With high-end surveys research software, the challenges of missing data, missing values, variable labels, and value labels will not generate barriers to analysis or inordinately compromise data integrity. The statistical processes that address such common data issues will be built right into high-end surveys research software applications.

Take a Deeper Look at Purchase Criteria for Surveys Research Software

An additional benefit of choosing surveys research software applications from reputable, high-end providers is that many common problems and desirable functionality have been considered in the development. As a result, it would be uncommon for a market researcher to get well into surveys research and discover that a function they desire is not possible with the software they purchased or that was custom-developed for them. For example, a high-end survey research software application will be able to accommodate the addition of a question in the middle of a surveys research effort or even to change the type of data being collected in a survey -- effectively as easy as changing the type of chart used to display data in MS Excel™.

Another strong feature of high-end surveys research software is the ability to produce questionnaires in multiple languages without creating redundant versions of the questionnaires, or without having to duplicate routing language.

Another important consideration for the selection of surveys research software applications is the ease with which software maintenance updates occur. New versions of the operating system of established platforms will require revision of surveys research software applications. Mobile technology is always in flux and tends to improve over time. Consideration of long-term costs of surveys research software applications will need to factor in the cost and inconvenience of updates.

It is important to structure a surveys research program to take advantage of these updates as the quality and functionality of the surveys research software applications are enhanced through user feedback and subsequent revisions to address the real world experience.