Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Randomized Response and Item Count Techniques

06/01/2002

Two techniques described in the literature provide researchers with a means of obtaining a population estimate of an event or a behavior but not information that can be associated with the individual. Both were designed initially for use in face-to-face surveys; it is feasible to administer an item count approach in a telephone or self-administered questionnaire. The randomized response technique is one in which two questions are presented to the respondent, each with the same response categories, usually yes and no. One question is the question of interest; the other is a question for which the distribution of the responses for the population is known. Each question is associated with a different color. A randomized device, such as a box containing beads of different colors, indicates to the respondent which of the questions to answer, for which he or she simply states to the interviewer either "yes" or "no." The probability of selecting the red bead as opposed to the blue bead is known to the researcher. An example is as follows: A box contains 100 beads, 70 percent of which are red, 30 percent of which are blue. When shaken, the box will present to the respondent one bead (only seen by the respondent). Depending on the color, the respondent will answer one of the following questions: (Red question) Have you ever had an abortion? and (Blue question) Is your birthday in June? In a survey of 1,000 individuals, the expected number of persons answering "yes" to the question about the month of the birthday is approximately 1,000(.30)/12 or 25 persons (assuming birthdays are equally distributed over the 12 months of the year). If 200 persons said "yes" in response to answering either the red or blue questions, then 175 answered yes in response to the abortion item, yielding a population estimate of the percent of women having had an abortion as 175/(1000*.70) or 25 percent.

The item count method is somewhat easier to administer than the randomized response technique. In the item count method, two nearly identical lists of behaviors are developed; in one list k behaviors are listed and in the other list, k +1 items are listed, where the additional item is the behavior of interest. Half of the respondents are administered the list with k items and the other half are offered the list with the k +1 behaviors. Respondents are asked to simply provide the number of behaviors in which they have engaged (without indicating the specific behaviors). The difference in the number of behaviors between the two lists provides the estimate of the behavior of interest.

The major disadvantage of either the randomized response technique or item count method is that one cannot relate individual characteristics of the respondents with the behavior of interest; rather one is limited to a population estimate.

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