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The NIPO Fieldwork System reviewed

Tim Macer examines the warm handover in a mixed mode research tool.

Mixed mode research is possibly more talked about than done. And while a dozen or more software packages now offer support for the method, users often find the hoped for boost in efficiency still elude them due to irksome technicalities.

There is no doubt that having their own CATI and web-interviewing laboratory in the same building has helped NIPO Software to polish up its well-established CATI system into provide an extremely pragmatic solution to mixed mode research. The relationship is both advantage and disadvantage, as buyers can be deterred from dealing with a firm that is part of the TNS group. But this software company has successfully managed such a Chinese Wall for many years and strives to provide the same software and level of service to all its customers, both internal and external.

The NIPO Fieldwork System offers a vast sprawling network of rugged, workaday modules, more power station than Porsche in its design ethos. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder: this system, true to its Dutch roots, is designed to make money out of fieldwork. The spec for interviewer PCs, for instance, is lower than the PCs most people are throwing away today. It will run happily on a Pentium ‘zero’. Screens are simple and uncluttered, though the supervisor capabilities are fully GUI, and are very impressive.

On the downside, at least for some, is that there is no GUI interface for survey authoring – it is syntax only. But this is mitigated by a very productive script definition environment with on-screen assistants that suggest the range of syntax options, and instant previewing of what the survey will look like in CATI or as a web survey, with all the routing logic turned on.

What makes this software into a compelling mixed-mode solution is the attention to detail that has gone into making mixed mode research little different from setting up an interview in CATI.They have strengthened the handover points, with simple syntax commands to switch an interview from one mode to another. Though CATI to web is the commonest switch, CATI to CAPI, web to CATI, plus other combinations are just as feasible, and interviews can be done entirely in parallel too, from start to finish. A ‘hard switch’ transfers all interviews at a pre-defined point, which is ideal for a CATI interview followed by a self-completion module online, or even a CATI recruit and screener followed by a web interview.

One database, securely inside the Internet firewall, handles all the live data, and a web server, on the other side, provides the engine for running the web interviews, but can safely pull just the data it needs and push back the completed interview through the firewall. It means that interviews can pass instantly from CATI interview mode to web interview mode, in real time.

NIPO has even pioneered the ‘warm handover’. It noticed that interviews tend to get lost during the handover - sometimes because the respondent is really politely refusing by agreeing to continue online, but sometimes because the email address is incorrect, or the respondent is not sure what to do. The warm handover means the respondent can get the email link, and the interviewer checks that the first screen loads properly before signing off. As it also acts as a prompt to the respondent, completion rates can be much higher when using a warm switch.

The program may not be as visually ‘modern’ as some, but the pragmatic extensions to handle mixed mode interviewing definitely lifts this program into the next decade.

The User View: Bert Buitenkamp at Fieldworld

FieldWorld, a fieldwork company in Amersfoot, Netherlands, has had considerable success applying the NIPO Fieldwork System mode switching capabilities to a diverse range of CATI and Web surveys, both to boost response rates and reduce cost.

FieldWorld, a fieldwork company in Amersfoort, Netherlands, has had considerable success applying The NIPO Fieldwork System mode switching capabilities to a diverse range of CATI and Web surveys, both to boost response rates and reduce cost. “It gives you several advantages over a one channel system,” explains FieldWorld’s MD Bert Buitenkamp, “because you can use it in situations where you need to interview consumers where panels are insufficient, such as groups with a very low incidence, or where clients want to have random samples. And for B2B studies, we use it for refusers at the point of refusal, to offer them the interview over the Internet and then send them the email link immediately.”

By introducing such a ‘soft switch’ at the point where an interview with hard-to-get B2B respondents would normally terminate after a refusal, FieldWorld has found that around 15% of those that would otherwise be lost to the survey do log on and complete the interview in their own time, on the web. While, for consumer surveys where sample is more abundant, soft switches at the start of the interview generally see the majority opting for a web survey, and between a quarter and a third actually doing so, with net cost saving of around 30-40% over an equivalent CATI-only study, and still usually a higher response rate than telephone alone.

Buitenkamp sees the cost benefit as being something driven by clients, but really of lesser importance than the sampling and response benefits: the cost advantages will erode once the method becomes more widely practiced, as he believes it will. “Why we find it interesting is because, in the long term, the industry as a whole will be helped if it can improve response rates.” And there aren’t that many other remedies on offer.

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, November 2005, Issue 474.

© Copyright Meaning Ltd 2005. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

Industrial-strength mixed-mode interviewing platform with a number of key innovations for handling inter-modal transfer of interviews in real time.

Ease of use
Cross-platform compatibility
Value for money

Around £12,000 per annum for CATI (40 stations); web between 15p and 40p per complete by volume, with other cost models available too.