Skip to main content

Exploitation vs Exploration

I'm still thinking about this problem that gets posed in machine learning -- exploitation vs. exploration. If you want to read more on the topic, I'd recommend Sutton and Barto's Reinforcement Learning. The idea is deceptively simple. Should you take the highest reward given what you currently know, or explore actions for which you don't know the reward?

In machine learning, they try to balance the two objectives. For example, in situations of greater uncertainty, you might spend more resources on exploration.

In surveys, I've tended to look at experiments as discrete events. Run the experiment. Get the results. Implement the preferred method. But we know that the efficacy of methods changes over time. The simplest example is incentive amounts. What's the right amount? One way to answer this question would be to run an experiment every so often. And change your incentive amounts based on each experiment. Another approach might be to keep a low level of exploration going at all times. The level of experimentation might change as the uncertainty changes. This kind of design is very intriguing to me. And it seems like a natural fit for ongoing surveys.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

"Responsive Design" and "Adaptive Design"

My dissertation was entitled "Adaptive Survey Design to Reduce Nonresponse Bias." I had been working for several years on "responsive designs" before that. As I was preparing my dissertation, I really saw "adaptive" design as a subset of responsive design.

Since then, I've seen both terms used in different places. As both terms are relatively new, there is likely to be confusion about the meanings. I thought I might offer my understanding of the terms, for what it's worth.

The term "responsive design" was developed by Groves and Heeringa (2006). They coined the term, so I think their definition is the one that should be used. They defined "responsive design" in the following way:

1. Preidentify a set of design features that affect cost and error tradeoffs.
2. Identify indicators for these costs and errors. Monitor these during data collection.
3. Alter the design features based on pre-identified decision rules based on the indi…

An Experimental Adaptive Contact Strategy

I'm running an experiment on contact methods in a telephone survey. I'm going to present the results of the experiment at the FCSM conference in November. Here's the basic idea.

Multi-level models are fit daily with the household being a grouping factor. The models provide household-specific estimates of the probability of contact for each of four call windows. The predictor variables in this model are the geographic context variables available for an RDD sample.

Let $\mathbf{X_{ij}}$ denote a $k_j \times 1$ vector of demographic variables for the $i^{th}$ person and $j^{th}$ call. The data records are calls. There may be zero, one, or multiple calls to household in each window. The outcome variable is an indicator for whether contact was achieved on the call. This contact indicator is denoted $R_{ijl}$ for the $i^{th}$ person on the $j^{th}$ call to the $l^{th}$ window. Then for each of the four call windows denoted $l$, a separate model is fit where each household is assum…

Is there such a thing as "mode"?

Ok. The title is a provocative question. But it's one that I've been thinking about recently. A few years ago, I was working on a lit review for a mixed-mode experiment that we had done. I found that the results were inconsistent on an important aspect of mixed-mode studies -- the sequence of modes.

As I was puzzled about this, I went back and tried to write down more information about the design of each of the experiments that I was reviewing. I started to notice a pattern. Many mixed-mode surveys offered "more" of the first mode. For example, in a web-mail study, there might be 3 mailings with the mail survey and one mailed request for a web survey. This led me to think of "dosage" as an important attribute of mixed-mode surveys.

I'm starting to think there is much more to it than that. The context matters  a lot -- the dosage of the mode, what it may require to complete that mode, the survey population, etc. All of these things matter.

Still, we ofte…