Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Recruitment

06/01/2002

Key to assigning interviewers who are appropriate to low-income and welfare populations is the recognition that unique attributes are needed. Not all interviewers, even experienced ones, are equally effective in this environment. Screening prospective interviewers begins in the help wanted ad. It must specifically state that the job entails interviewing low income persons in their residences or elsewhere out in the field. The fact that the work will require some evenings and weekends must be understood. Supplying this information beforehand will avoid any misconceptions that may occur later.

During the job interview, it is important that applicants be evaluated on their ability to be nonjudgmental in the situations to which they may be exposed. If the content of the questionnaire is sensitive, it is useful to show candidates a sample of the questions. Some candidates will eliminate themselves, knowing they would be uncomfortable asking these kinds of questions. Successful candidates, both experienced and new to interviewing, will be comfortable with the gaining cooperation aspect of the job. When conducting exit interviews with interviewers who have left a project, one of the frequently mentioned reasons for leaving relates to the door-to-door sales aspect of interviewing; they often did not realize how difficult that preinterview step could be and were not up for the challenge or the rejection that can be associated with slammed doors or hung-up phones.

NORC experience with studies involving hard-to-reach populations and/or sensitive topics supports the findings by Groves and Couper that experienced interviewers are more adept at gaining cooperation than inexperienced interviewers. Those who thrive in the interviewing environment see these situations as personal challenges to which they apply their skills gained from earlier experiences.

To select an approach to use, the interviewer must judge the fit of the respondent to other respondent types experienced in the past (either through descriptions in training or actual interaction with them). We believe that experienced interviewers tend to achieve higher levels of cooperation because they carry with them a larger number of combinations of behaviors proven to be effective for one or more types of householders. (Groves and Couper, 1988:36)

On the D.C. Networks Study, all the interviewers have had experience working in difficult neighborhoods or previous studies in the D.C. area. The experienced locating specialist has been helping them to gain access to prisons and has been doing a great deal of street locating.

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