Supporting and motivating field staff on low-income studies can differ markedly from the traditional methods used on a national study with a mixed sample. Assigning strong, experienced supervisors with field interviewing expertise is key to achieving high response rates. Interviewers need continual support, brainstorming opportunities, motivation, locating assistance, and morale boosting from involved and caring supervisors. Supervisors must:
- Communicate by phone with interviewers no less than twice a week, or more often if indicated.
- Discuss numbers, projections, costs, and disposition codes for cases during one call, and have a completely separate call for problem solving. The second call is for question-and-answer periods and problem solving, uninterrupted by the administrative process.
- Offer to do locating through central office or Internet sources or to help convert refusals. Managers sometimes can do phone interviews for interviewers on projects that allow it.
- Pair up new interviewers or ones hesitant to interview during late hours with experienced interviewers or escorts. (For example, traveling interpreters worked with interviewers who needed to interview Chinese, Vietnamese, and other ethnic groups on the recent Media Use Study.)
- Readily transfer cases around once the interviewers have established a work pattern. Supervisors must be quick to recognize procrastinators and replace them with more effective interviewers. This also helps to motivate less productive persons to improve and increase their efforts. Some interviewers prove to be more effective on the telephone than in person, so flexibility is key.
Supervisors also should be adept at refusal aversion, refusal conversion, and locating in order to help interviewers strategize effectively.
A centrally located site office, whether for the duration of the study or just during the startup and the final crunch phase of the data collection effort, has proven beneficial. On the Woodlawn Studies, the field management staff were based at an office at NORCs University of Chicago location. This office was set up with multiple telephone lines to allow for centralized locating and some telephone interviewing by the field staff. On the New York Minority Youth Study, the office was set up in client-provided space at Columbia University. On the D.C. Networks Study, a permanent office is set up in a storefront centrally located to the sample members. On the Seattle Study, the site office was set up at the hotel where training was held and the travelers stayed; for the baseline interviewing it was maintained and staffed for the entire data collection period, whereas for the other rounds of interviewing it was set up for training and maintained for the first couple of weeks of data collection. After that the interviewers were supervised remotely, although the supervisor visited at least a few times to meet with field interviewers. There were travelers (experienced interviewers) in for the entire data collection period, although they were not the same individuals during the entire time.
In many studies the site office served to make interviewers more responsible and provided supervisors with greater flexibility to transfer cases and assignments when necessary. Interviewers were required to submit their Time & Expense Reports in person together with their completed cases. This closely tied pay to production and receipt control. Site offices also permitted supervisors to review Records of Calls and do the strategy planning face to face with interviewers.
On the New York Minority Youth Study, the front-line field manager believed that having a site office for the field interviewers helped in many ways. The respondent population was very transient, presenting multiple locating, refusal aversion, and conversion problems. Having a site itself lent a helping hand to interviewers who were not strong in these areas. The site office also provided a physical opportunity to brainstorm and share successful approaches with peers. Where one interviewer may have been unsuccessful with a certain case, the field manager could have another interviewer share his or her experience with similar cases or transfer that case for another approach. The field manager believed another benefit of the site office was in the team pressure it created. Interviewers had the opportunity to shine in person when they had a great week, and those who were not as successful felt pressured to perform better the following week.
Field managers on all projects know they are expected to be available to their interviewers 7 days a week. However, on some of these studies that expectation was intensified. On the Seattle Study, for example, a communication link between the field manager and the interviewers was needed 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. Respondents were given a toll-free number that was staffed by the senior field manager in charge who could page any of the interviewers if a respondent called and wanted an appointment. On this study, all interviewers had pagers, and the toll-free number was set up with three-way calling, caller ID, call waiting, and other features. This allowed the supervisor to contact an interviewer while she had a respondent on the phone and set up an appointment on the spot. Cellular phones would have been even more efficient, but at the time they were too costly to rent.
Support also comes in the form of working together in teams, during either the interviewing or the locating phases. The team could include a field supervisor or experienced traveler who can model an effective approach at the door and gain cooperation when new interviewers are unsure of themselves. It also can involve sending both a male and a female interviewer to an area where the female interviewer alone might be uncomfortable. The team effort also can be invoked for a blitz when all of the interviewers and supervisors work together to finish up specific cases.