Methods

Focus group interview

Focus group interviews can be used either independently or as part of quantitative research. First, they can proceed quantitative research, when they help the researcher to get acquainted with the interviewees' vocabulary and way of thinking. Second, focus groups are used for evaluating data collection methods or tools. As a third option, focus group interviews can be used together with quantitative data (triangulation) to verify the reliability of the results obtained with data collected using different approaches and to draw a more comprehensive picture of the research topic than would be possible with just one research method. Focus group interviews may also follow quantitative data collections to add depth to the interpretation of results.

A group interview gives the opportunity to collect diversified data on the subject matter of the research topic, not only on what has happened and on opinions, but also on how and why, and on the perceptions, experiences, attitudes and expectations associated with the topic.

The method locates in the middle ground between participatory observation and supervision of a natural group situation and a structured, personal interview. Because a focus group interview incorporates mutual interaction, it is closer than a personal interview to everyday life where opinions, attitudes and habits are formed.

Expert panel

A questionnaire evaluation made by an expert panel describes the cognitive demands the presented questions impose and the aspects in them that might make answering difficult. In the evaluation the panel runs through a questionnaire systematically, question by question and summarises the points that are problematic on it. The evaluating is done against a classification that is based on the general model of the question-answering process. The questionnaire designer can utilise the evaluation to revise difficult questions before the actual data collection and thereby improve the quality of the survey data.

An expert panel usually comprises two to five people who are specialists in behavioural sciences, survey methodology or the subject matter of the data collection concerned. Besides own experts, the expert panels of the SurveyLaboratory also include survey researchers of Statistics Finland with solid experience in different content areas of social statistics.

Cognitive interviews

Cognitive interviews are used to test draft questionnaires or individual questions and concepts. They are personal interviews where the interviewee thinks aloud concurrently while answering a question, or retrospectively after having responded to a question or the whole questionnaire. The method is used for testing both self-administered and interviewer-administered questionnaires.

Cognitive interviews apply the general question-answering model, trying specifically to penetrate and establish the respondent's cognitive processes to disclose things like:

  • What does the respondent think the question means?
  • What do individual terms and concepts mean?
  • What type of information retrieval is required from the respondent?
  • What kind of answering strategy does the respondent use?
  • Is the respondent willing to put enough effort into answering accurately and fully?
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Behavioural coding

Behavioural coding is used to test the functionality of the entire questionnaire in a real survey interview situation. The method is based on the empirical observation that without well-functioning questions interviewers cannot perform their interview task in a comparable manner.

Audio-recorded interviews are analysed using a special behavioural coding classification. The reactions of the interviewer and respondent obtain certain codes for each question. The aim is to expose those problems on the questionnaire that make it difficult to perform a standardised interview and to obtain comparable information. The behavioural codes are based on the information processing model in the survey situation, various tasks in the answering process and the tasks faced by the interviewer. Behavioural coding provides information about question-specific problems and their reasons, but also about problems connected to the question context and the structure of the questionnaire. In addition to the problem frequencies, the qualitative information emerged in the interaction is also taken into account in coding analysis.

Behavioural coding can be used in the pretesting phase of questionnaires, but it can also be applied to evaluating the quality of actual data collection.