I was at the AAPOR Conference in Chicago most of last week and while I had planned to do some blogging it was hard given the sheer overwhelming amount of information, opinions, and data being shared. (And besides, Jeffry Henning was there pounding out posts on his shiny new iPad so I am confident the important ground was or shortly will be covered.) By my count there were 66 sessions (not counting the WAPOR overlap) with upwards of 300 papers and while they may not all have been publication ready by any means the vast majority (and I mean that) were by people who know their stuff. I heard no paper that made me shake my head and mutter to myself.
Overall there seemed to be two major themes and both had to do with getting good samples in challenging times. There was one group that is all about dual frame telephone sampling meaning including cell phones and a second group focused on address-based sampling (ABS) with interviewing by some combination of mail and Web. There were multiple sessions on both topics and sometimes two at the same time. Next year AAPOR ought to make an effort to get the two groups in the same room to argue because there are arguments to be had.
But what really struck me is the comment this seems to make on the crisis in the scientific side of the research industry. We have hit a wall. Our mainstay of the last 30 years—telephone research—is not working anymore and we are doing our best to keep propping it up. One implication of that propping up is that costs are continuing to rise even faster because calling cell phones is more expensive than calling landlines. Some are abandoning phone altogether and going back to paper and pencil mail surveys. (If I had predicted that five years ago my blogging credentials would have been revoked!)
We are in desperate need of a breakthrough. And for the kind of work that these people do and the precision requirements they have to meet it's clear that online as currently conceived and practiced is not it. I don't pretend to have the answer, but there were an awful lot of people at the conference last week who have the smarts and experience to do the hard work of figuring it out. Let's hope they do so soon.