One website which I find very interesting is the Psy-Fi Blog, which as its banner states is a sideways Look at Psychology and Finance; in other words, it is concerned with behavioural economics. Unfortunately, the blog took a year long rest, but recently returned to life with a series which seems to be an A-Z of behavioural biases, most of which are very difficult for us to overcome.
One entry in the past few days which was not part of this series was this one, which discusses how using behavioral techniques [can] help improve citizens' responses to various government initiatives. This entry caught my attention, not because I'm particularly interested in improving responses to government initiatives, but because I'm interested in improving responses to research questionnaires.
True, I haven't got to the stage of distributing the questionnaires yet (when I will be very interested in obtaining a high response rate), but I did send out an initial consent letter to about twenty companies using Priority before I went on holiday and I have yet to receive a single reply.
The words in italics come from the Psy-Fi blog entry:
- The "Easy" strand of the framework targets removing frictional costs; those apparently minor inconveniences that put people off whatever it is we want them to do - in my case, getting the companies to assent to participating in the research, then getting the respondents to reply
- For the second strand, the "Attract" leg of the framework, the key is to personalize messages. In a complex and busy world you first need to get people to pay attention, and then you need to incentivise them to respond. It's not ethical to offer payment to people to complete research questionnaires; even if I did, I would be introducing bias as possibly only those who were interested in payment would return their questionnaires.
- Pointing out that most people are compliant to some behavior will trigger our attraction to social norms. Maybe I will have to portray myself as someone who is desperate: 'without your small contribution, I won't be able to complete my doctorate and several years of study and research will go down the drain'.
- Make it timely: the same intervention can have significantly different outcomes dependent on when it occurs. This really is irrelevant in my case, although again I could claim that I have to finish my research within three months otherwise ....
It is definitely important to encourage as many people as possible to respond to the questionnaire without introducing biases. In an ideal world, everyone to whom I send the questionnaire will respond, but somehow I can't see that happening.