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What if something unexpected happens?

I recently finished teaching a short course on responsive survey design. We had some interesting discussions. One of the things that we emphasized was the pre-planned nature of responsive design. We contrast responsive design with ad hoc changes that a survey might make in response to unanticipated problems. The reasoning is that ad hoc changes are often done under pressure and, therefore, are likely to be less than optimal -- that is, they might be implemented too late, cost too much, or better options might not be considered. Further, it's hard to replicate the results when decisions are made this way.

Some of the students seemed uneasy about this definition. In part, I think this was because there was a sort of implication that one shouldn't make ad hoc changes. That really wasn't our message. Our point was that to be responsive design, it needs to be pre-planned. We didn't mean that if unanticipated problems arise, it would be better to do nothing. In this sense, responsive design might be a goal and not all surveys live up to that goal. I'm not too proud to admit having been in an ad hoc meeting or two.

I'll take this opportunity to mention that we have a new book out (with Barry Schouten and Andy Peytchev) on Adaptive Survey Design that looks at the question of what are adaptive and responsive survey designs.

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