### Exploration vs exploitation

Once more on this theme that I discussed on this blog several times last year. This is a central problem for the field of research known as reinforcement learning. I'd recommend taking a look at Sutton and Barto's book if you are interested. It's not too technical and can be understood by someone without a background in machine learning.

As I mentioned in my last post, I think learning in the survey environment is a tough problem. The paper that proposed the upper confidence bound rule said it works well for short run problems -- but the short run they envisioned was something like 100 trials.

In the survey setting, there aren't repeated rewards. We're usually looking for one interview. You might think of gaining contact as another reward, but still. We're usually limited to a relatively small number of attempts (trials). We also often have poor estimates of response and contact probabilities to start with. Given that reward structure, poor prior information, and the limitation on the usual small number of trials, it may be that surveys should lean toward the exploration side of the problem.

### "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…

### Future of Responsive and Adaptive Design

A special issue of the Journal of Official Statistics on responsive and adaptive design recently appeared. I was an associate editor for the issue and helped draft an editorial that raised issues for future research in this area. The last chapter of our book on Adaptive Survey Design also defines a set of questions that may be of issue.

I think one of the more important areas of research is to identify targeted design strategies. This differs from current procedures that often sequence the same protocol across all cases. For example, everyone gets web, then those who haven't responded to  web get mail. The targeted approach, on the other hand, would find a subgroup amenable to web and another amenable to mail.

This is a difficult task as most design features have been explored with respect to the entire population, but we know less about subgroups. Further, we often have very little information with which to define these groups. We may not even have basic household or person chara…

### 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…