Challenges associated with conducting surveys in a social care setting
Qualitative approaches such as in-depth interviews are often well suited to research with young or vulnerable people or about sensitive topics. But if we want to find out how widespread a particular experience or view is, only a survey will give us the reach we need. As researchers we need to think hard when it comes to asking questions of potentially vulnerable people. How can we go about crafting questionnaires which will get us the data we need whilst still protecting our participants?
I have often grappled with this challenge in my experience as a social researcher. Applying the principles of good questionnaire design has helped me avoid common pitfalls, such as vagueness or giving multiple choice options which overlap. This can leave respondents feeling confused and unable to select an answer. But I still make a common mistake: I assume that, as long as questions are clearly worded for the context, age group or profession my survey is targeting then the respondents will be receptive to my questions and at the ready with accurate information and candid opinions.
The reality is not so simple. If respondents find questions too conceptually or emotionally challenging they may become distressed, misunderstand the question and give incongruous answers, or disengage from the process. Examples of this include asking respondents to estimate how frequently they do something – depending on what that ‘something’ is, this can be a very difficult thing to do – or asking questions which bring up traumatic memories.