My name is Ellen Steiner, Director of Market Research and Evaluation at Energy Market Innovations, a research-based consultancy focused on strategic program design and evaluation for the energy efficiency industry – we work to create an energy future that is sustainable for coming generations.
An increasingly common practice…
In energy efficiency program evaluations, telephone surveys are traditionally the mode of choice. However, there are many reasons that evaluators are increasingly interested in pursuing online surveys including the potential for:
(1) lower costs,
(2) increased sample sizes,
(3) more rapid deployment, and
(4) enhanced respondent convenience.
With online surveys, fielding costs are often lower and larger sample sizes can be reached cost-effectively. Larger sample sizes result in greater accuracy and can support increased segmentation of the sample. Online surveys also take less time to be fielded and can be completed at the respondent’s convenience.
Yet be aware…
In contrast, there are still many concerns regarding the validity and reliability of online surveys. Disadvantages of online surveys potentially include:
(1) respondent bias,
(2) response rate issues,
(3) normative effects, and
(4) cognitive effects.
Certain populations are less likely to have Internet access or respond to an Internet survey, which poses a generalizability threat. Although past research indicates that online response rates often are equal or slightly higher than that of traditional modes, Internet users are increasingly exposed to online survey solicitations, necessitating researchers employ creative and effective strategies for garnering participation. In addition, normative and cognitive challenges related to not having a trained interviewer present to clarify and probe which may lead to less reliable data.
Come talk with us at AEA!
My colleague, Jess Chandler and I will be presenting a session at the AEA conference titled “Using Online Surveys and Telephone Surveys for a Commercial Energy Efficiency Program Evaluation: A Mode Effects Experiment,” in which we will discuss the findings from a recent study we conducted comparing online to telephone surveys. We hope you can join us and share your experiences with online surveys!
- Email Address Availability – In our experience, if you do not have email addresses for the majority of the population from which you want to sample, the cost benefits of an internet sample are cancelled out by the time spent seeking out or trying to purchase email addresses.
- Mode Effects Pilot Studies – Where possible, conducting a pilot study using a randomized controlled design where two or more samples are drawn from the same population and each sample is given the survey in a different mode is a best practice to understand the potential limitations of an online survey specific to the population under study.
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