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Why surveys by mobile phone might be one way forward (04 Feb 15)

Your entire survey can be complete and ready for you to analyse within a couple of hours.

(First published on the 17 June 2009) 

Tim Macer knows as much about survey technology as anyone. In fact he is probably the UK’s leading expert on it.

So I asked him what he thought of mobile phones as a possible means of surveying people, now that so many of the population have one.

Here is what he had to say:

“Surveys on paper, on the Internet and even on the telephone are commonplace today.

Yet each of these methods has limitations in the number and spread of service users, customers or respondents you can reach by them.

Not everyone has access to the Internet, the people you need to reach by phone aren't always there when you contact them and surveys on paper may be ignored by the majority, and some will struggle to complete them accurately.

Over 85 per cent of the UK population has a mobile phone these days, and among age groups under 44, that rises to over 93 per cent. Even among economically disadvantaged groups, three in every four people have a mobile phone today* and the figures continue to rise.

Yet the phones in people's pockets and handbags are rarely used for surveys. It does not have to be this way.

It is fair to say that using mobile phones for verbal, telephone surveys is not practical for three reasons. It is not usually possible to create reliable sample frames of mobile phone numbers. Mobile numbers are not usually listed in directories, and people frequently change their numbers.

Whereas telephone samples can be generated randomly in quite effective ways, using the exchange codes as a sampling frame and to control the geographic area covered, this is not possible with mobile phone numbers in European countries at least, where mobile numbers are national, and are grouped by provider alone.

The second and possibly greater concern is of privacy and intrusion. The person answering the phone will often be in a public rather than a private place, which means that participating is likely to be particularly intrusive, and the participant will feel constrained and or uncomfortable in discussing a great many topics where they can be overheard by others – even over seemingly innocuous questions.

The third concern is one of safety: the participant may be driving at the time, or even walking, and about to cross a road.

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