Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

The Case for Personal Interaction: Drop-Off/pick-Up Methodology for Survey Research *

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

The Case for Personal Interaction: Drop-Off/pick-Up Methodology for Survey Research *

Article excerpt

Low survey response rates and the corresponding potential for nonresponse error have presented increasing challenges for social researchers in the United States (Brick and Williams 2013; Dillman, Smyth, and Christian 2014). One often overlooked alternative is the drop-off/pick-up method, where surveyors interact face-to-face with potential respondents when hand-delivering survey questionnaires to individual households and returning later for retrieval.

The drop-off/pick-up (DOPU) method has been touted as having several advantages compared with mailed questionnaires and phone interviews. Most researchers who use the method report doing so for the higher response rates produced by the personal interaction (e.g., Allred and Ross-Davis 2011; Riley and Kiger 2002). Additionally, researchers have used DOPU methods to reduce noncoverage error (Steele et al. 2001), to assist in administering intricate survey designs (Pedersen et al. 2011), to implement complex eligibility criteria for respondents (Allred and Ross-Davis 2011; Waight and Bath 2014), and to engage potential respondents with a topic in which they may have minimal interest (Trentelman 2011). It has also proven useful in research contexts where other methods cannot work (Clark and Finley 2007). Social exchange theory can explain many of these benefits (Cropanzano and Mitchell 2005; Dillman et al. 2014), and it can also provide guidance for recommended practices for the method.

Despite these advantages, many survey researchers are unfamiliar with DOPU or do not know how to utilize it. Few prior works are instructive for the practitioner who is interested but unexperienced with the method and those providing guidance are dated (e.g., Riley and Kiger 2002; Steele et al. 2001). Also dated are the works on the methodological experimentation conducted on DOPU methods (e.g., Melevin et al. 1999; Walker 1976). In this paper we update the discussion on DOPU, with the hope of providing survey researchers another methodological tool. The contributions we attempt to make to the literature are several fold. Beyond providing a general introduction to this survey technique, we synthesize direction from these prior works, ideas gleaned from research using DOPU methods, and our own experience to present the steps for conducting DOPU surveys. Utilizing social exchange theory, we suggest recommended practices that include the mechanics and details of the process.

We illustrate these suggestions with experiences from a survey conducted in 2007. DOPU surveys rely on a "significant team effort" (Steele et al. 2001:248), yet none of the prior literature providing instruction on DOPU has explicitly included the perspectives of research team members on the hands-on aspects of the methodology. We use our case illustratively because it allows research team members to be included in the story telling. Additionally, because the details of preparing the research team have also been neglected in prior works, we include suggestions for training surveyors for DOPU work. We believe this approach will be helpful for those learning about this survey method.


This survey technique has been in use since at least the 1970s, but "dropoff/pick-up" surveys, also known as "drop and collect" surveys in some work conducted outside the United States (Devine-Wright 2011; Ibeha, Brocka, and Zhou 2004; Liang and Chikritzhs 2011; Said et al. 2003), are referenced in research literature infrequently. Since DOPU consists of hand-delivering survey instruments to households and then returning to collect the completed questionnaires, it is typically seen as best suited for surveys of smaller geographic areas. As such, DOPU has been found advantageous for surveys at the community or county level, particularly for small and densely-settled areas (Steele et al. 2001). The method has been used, for example, to study community dynamics, especially in rural areas (Brehm, Eisenhauer, and Krannich 2006), attitudes and behavior toward natural resources (Allred and Ross-Davis 2010), and place attachment (Devine-Wright 2011), as well as in surveys on alcohol and other drug use (Liang and Chikritzhs 2011). …

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