Survey Research Center offers wide range of data collection services

by Kristie Auman-Bauer
October 19, 2015

Researchers know inaccurate data collection can be costly and may negatively impact the results of a study, ultimately leading to invalid results.

The Survey Research Center (SRC) at Penn State is often called upon to provide research methodology assistance and accurate data collection services to faculty and students at Penn State and across the U.S. In some cases, the center’s services are needed during multiple phases of a project.

Mark Feinberg, research professor of health and human development at Penn State, contacted the SRC to evaluate the effectiveness of parenting classes during successive trials of the program.

Family Foundations is a series of fun, participatory classes for expectant parents that aims to enhance parent and child well-being. Feinberg and his team needed assistance in evaluating the program’s outcomes on family relationships, parenting quality, parent physical aggression to children, and child and parent emotional and behavioral problems. They decided home visits with field interviews would give them the most accurate and comprehensive evaluation data.

According to Diana Crom, resource manager with the SRC, the program was offered to families in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Texas. “In order to collect the data and conduct the in-home interviews, it seemed most cost effective to hire field interviewers who were also from those areas.”

To facilitate those requirements, the SRC screened and selected field interviewer applicants based on specific qualifications such as a flexible schedule, self-motivation and reliability along with a desire to collect high quality data. The SRC also conducted background checks and required candidates to attend in-person, paid training sessions.

Once data were collected and evaluated from the first phase, Family Foundations was expanded to a second, larger trial and the SRC was called upon again to provide accurate data collection of the 400 families that were involved.

“We requested the SRC administer carefully developed questionnaires and videotape couples as they discussed relationship issues, and also record interactions between child and parents and child and interviewer,” said Michelle Hostetler, research associate on the project at the Penn State Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center. The data collected helped the research team obtain funding through the Department of Defense to expand the project online to military families.

In another recent example, the SRC was contracted to supply data collection to the Family Relationships Project (FRP). The FRP is a study that has repeatedly measured the development of 200 families through in-person, telephone, and web interviews with four family members. “Families were originally recruited from central Pennsylvania in 1995 when their children were in middle school,” Crom explained.

This project was unique for the SRC because for the first time, a phone survey was combined with a lengthier online or mail survey. “After completing a phone survey, participants were given a link to a customized online survey or were mailed a copy of a customized paper survey, based on their responses to the phone survey,” said Crom. “Because of the success of the study, it was expanded to include interviews of romantic partners of the young adults who had been participating in the study since early middle school.”

Most recently, the SRC developed the smart phone survey app Dynamic Real-time Ecological Ambulatory Methodologies (DREAM), an innovative data collection method to assess ongoing behavior, experiences, physiology, and environmental factors in people’s natural settings. “DREAM supports researchers in the use of emerging mobile technologies for intensive data collection and can be customized to with real-time data to provide behavioral interventions,” said Crom.

The SRC is a part of the Social Science Research Institute at Penn State and focuses on providing data collection, helping faculty and student investigators prepare effective proposals for external funding, educating members of the Penn State community on best practices and emerging developments, and promoting and contributing to the science of survey research methodology.

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Last Updated October 19, 2015