Interview with Patricia Marnell on the Mixed Income Project

Post date: Jun 26, 2013 3:15:13 PM

In 2013 RSS completed the Mixed Income Project, a study that followed up a group of respondents to the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN) and a group of respondents to the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhoods Study (LAFANS), to look at how families and neighborhoods in Chicago and Los Angeles have been affected by economic conditions in the past few years. RSS completed over 2000 interviews by phone and in person, in English and in Spanish. MIP was conducted for Dr. Robert Sampson at Harvard University and Dr. Rob Mare at UCLA. The study was funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. RSS blogger, Daniela Glusberg, interviewed Patricia Marnell, the RSS Project Manager who supervised the fieldwork for MIP to learn what made the project so successful: MIP achieved 63% response rate in Chicago after more than a decade without contact with the respondents, and 76% in Los Angeles after about 4 years since the last contact.

Daniela Glusberg: What are some of the challenges in interviewing members of the PHDCN sample 12 years after the last contact?

Patricia Marnell: The biggest challenge we had was in locating. These respondents were teenagers and younger when we last interviewed them in late 90s for PHDCN. As a group, young adults tend to be mobile; they go away to college, serve in the military, move for job opportunities or may just want to experience different places. Since cell phones were not as prominent in the late 90s when the last PHDCN interviews took place we did not have individual phone numbers for these respondents which made locating our number one challenge.

Our initial locating efforts were done electronically. Prior to fielding the sample we did a LexisNexis look-up for every respondent. This worked well for some of our respondents. Other respondents were found by contact with their parents or other family members or friends whose names respondents provided during the PHDCN interviews and were identified as persons the respondent thought would know how to contact him/her in the future. Naturally, some of these contacts were no longer available or no longer in contact with the respondent or were suspicious of who we were and/or why we wanted to reach the respondent. The family members who remembered participating in PHDCN were generally more cooperative in helping us locate respondents.

Glusberg: Did you use different approaches in how you tackled the LA FANS and PHDCN samples?

Marnell: Yes, we did treat the two samples differently.

Since LA FANS had been in the field more recently than PHDCN (as recently as three years since last interview) the locating information available to us was more recent and possibly better quality since cell phones were much more available at the time this sample was last interviewed. Even so, these respondents were also sent through a LexisNexis look-up prior to fielding. Initial respondent contact was then attempted by the telephone survey center of RSS subcontractor (IMPAQ International). Because the sample was used to a face-to-face approach, only 40% were willing to do the survey by telephone, and the rest of the sample had to be followed up in person. We were able to assemble a star team of field interviewers for Los Angeles; all of them had interviewed for LA FANS before, were very familiar with the prior study and the sample, and were well able to work with the respondents and their family members to refresh their memory about prior participation and the importance of the study. The RSS Field Manager for L.A., Maria DiGregorio, was also highly experienced with the study and provided the right leadership to the team.

Glusberg: What do you feel most contributed to your success with data collection?

Marnell: The most important thing was the persistence of the interviewers in locating respondents. Their ability in presenting the study to the respondents or to contacts who could help us get in touch with them was vitally important to the success of the study. It was often necessary to help both respondents and contacts understand that this was a legitimate research study and how important it was that an interview could be completed.

The next most important aspect was the teamwork of the interviewers. They shared techniques and approaches about how to be most efficient in locating respondents or how to effectively persuade respondents to agree to complete an interview. The interviewers were willing to move cases around so that work could be advanced in locating a respondent or persuading a respondent by a different interviewer. Or even when it was felt that a respondent might respond more positively to an interviewer of a different demographic the interviewers would exchange cases. At monthly meetings there was always lively discussion about how to best handle any case an interviewer wanted help with.