### Response Rates and Responsive Design

A recent article by Brick and Tourangeau re-examines the data from a paper by Groves and Peytcheva (2008). The original analyses from Groves and Peytcheva were based upon 959 estimates with known variables measured on 59 surveys with varying response rates. They found very little correlation between the response rate and the bias on those 959 estimates.

Brick and Tourangeau view the problem as a multi-level problem of 59 clusters (i.e. surveys) of the 959 estimates. They created for each survey a composite score based on all the bias estimates from each survey. Their results were somewhat sensitive to how the composite score was created. They do present several different ways of doing this -- simple mean, mean weighted by sample size, mean weighted by the number of estimates. Each of these study-level composite bias scores is more correlated with the response rate. They conclude: "This strongly suggests that nonresponse bias is partly a function of study-level characteristics; the correlational results indicate that one of those study-level characteristics is the study’s response rate. Response rates may not be very good predictors of nonresponse bias, but they are far from irrelevant."

I see two conclusions here. First, response rates are relevant. They appear to limit bias and may thereby reduce the variation in bias within studies. Second, response rates are partial information. There are still other indicators that need to be examined in any review of potential biases.

For me, this has two practical implications. First, we should not conclude that response rates don't matter. I sometimes heard this from people as a reaction to Groves and Peytcheva. I do think that an "emperor has no clothes" moment was needed to dethrone the response rate as the indicator. But we don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water [last metaphor for the day, I promise]. Response rates are still relevant and, as I have argued here, we don't want to lose the ability to obtain high ones.

Second, we need other indicators. Balance indicators, such as the R-Indicator and related variants, are needed. Controlling the response process with these indicators should also help reduce variation in nonresponse bias within a study. This point needs more proof. We did a recent simulation study. More evidence is needed.

### "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…

### 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…