I just got back from the American Association for Public Opinion Researchers (AAPOR) 73rd annual conference. AAPOR focuses on advancing scientific and practice of survey and opinion research. This year’s conference was located in Denver, Colorado. Denver was a great location as there were plenty of great restaurants within walking distance and the weather was perfect.

Founded in 1947, AAPOR is the leading association of public opinion and survey research professionals. The AAPOR community includes producers and users of survey data from a variety of disciplines. Members span a range of interests including election polling, market research, statistics, research methodology, health related data collection and education.

This was my first AAPOR conference. The schedule was jam-packed for several days of panel discussions on various topics. My objective for attending was to:

  1. Understand panels as I am looking into developing one for my organization
  2. Gather insights to improve response scales
  3. Learn new techniques for improved insight gatherings

I attended several excellent panel discussions. The panel discussions were comprised of academics, research professionals, and federal and state researchers (e.g., US Census, USDA, University of Chicago). The first panel discussion was “Surveying Rural America”. It was a great discussion on the difficulties of accessing rural individuals, due to differing definitions of “rural”, internet and/or WiFi access issues, and validation of addresses and phone numbers. A large part of my job is studying the rural consumer; it was good to hear other researchers’ struggles with accessing this valuable segment. Overall, it was a good discussion and provided some food-for-thought when I plan my next trip to rural communities within the U.S.

The next seminar I attended was “Word Up! Exploring Qualitative Data Collection Methods and Use of Qualitative Data to Enhance Survey Insights”. This discussion presented challenges with focus groups and individual in-depth interviews (IDI). As a large part of my work includes qualitative research, and especially individual IDIs, this was a great discussion to learn how others overcome the various challenges of gathering qualitative insights. The speakers also discussed new technologies that can assist researchers to uncover new insights. It was another good discussion to provide me with new ways to think about my next research project.

To wrap-up day 1, I attended “Mixed Methods Approach to Reducing Response Errors Associated with the Usability of Web Surveys”. As the majority of my research projects entail mixed methods (qualitative and quantitative), I was looking forward to learning new tips and techniques to improve my skills. This was a good discussion, but focused more on mixed-modes rather than mixed-methods. Overall it was a good discussion with strong interaction between panelists and attendees.

Day 2 kicked off at 8am with “Building a Multi-Mode Survey Research Panel: Lessons Learned and Future Developments from Be Heard Philly and Be Heard Mile High”. I was looking forward to this discussion as I am considering developing a research panel. This was a great discussion by the folks from Temple University in Philadelphia and the Center for African American Health in Denver. The individuals from Temple shared their struggles and missteps building their panel “Be Heard Philly”. It was a great discussion of what not to do and what to do, when building a panel from scratch. The panel shared examples of the lessons learned and provided excellent tips to avoid the “pain” they experienced. A key struggle for them is the ongoing need to market the panel to the community and increase participation.

The same panel included the lead of “Be Heard Mile High”. Temple University has started sharing their templates and tools with other organizations. “Be Heard Mile High” and “Be Heard Philly” work closely to improve participation and solve ongoing issues. The leader from the Center for African American Health in Denver shared her experiences and the benefit of working closely with Temple University. Overall I learned a lot and the speakers provided great ideas and cautions.

The next discussion I attended was “Running our Questions through the Ringer: Multiple Methods for Evaluating Survey Questions”. The speakers discussed their experience using cognitive interviews and IDIs. There were also several discussions on the use of card sorts and attempting to eliminate respondent confusion during research. One interesting discussion was the use of focus groups to gather information to develop IDIs. This was very interesting for me as I am from the old school of conducting IDIs then organizing focus groups. So the use of a focus group before IDIs was something new.

The final panel of the day (and the conference for me) was “Panel or Wallpaper? How to Cover Your Survey Needs and Other Advice on Starting and Running an Online Panel”. This discussion was another excellent seminar to help me get my head-around panels and determining if they are right for my organization.

The final panel of the day (and the conference for me) was “So Many Choices, Research on Response Scales”. This discussion was heavily attended and kicked off with speakers from GfK. They shared their research and experiments on developing effective response scales. The speakers presented multiple examples of the pros and cons of using unipolar versus bipolar scales, as well as different rating scales and including (or not) anchors – using either text or numerals. The speakers provided many real-world examples and tips to ensure strong validity with your survey questions. I gained some excellent tips to improve my research question development.

Overall the two full days were an excellent time to listen to highly experienced researchers from multiple fields. In addition, the benefit of networking with research professionals allows new perspectives when developing my next research project. Attending conferences outside your industry is extremely important to improve your skills and expand your perspectives. The benefit of gaining new insights and methodologies from experienced research professionals is the best way to grow as a researcher.