CATI, CAPI, web interviewing and a decent analysis tool without any techy scripting - what you see is really what you get. That's the promise of Askia, writes Tim Macer
C'est bon

Produced in France a few years ago, and now translated into English and supported by a satellite office in London, Askia boasts an impressive string of clients in France, and a growing clutch of users in the UK. It also has some very novel features.
Askia is a networked PC-based collection of tools for market research and is based on Microsoft’s Access database – not SQL Server – say Askia’s eponymous producers, in order to keep the cost down. Certainly, Askia compares very favourably on features versus cost.
Different icons on the desktop let you into the suite’s various components. A very passable design module has been thoughtfully constructed to make it very quick to set up questionnaires – one of the reservations professional users have against GUI-only design tools.
There are several ways to get questions and answers in quickly – my favourite was from a Word file, where you simply apply the Word style ‘question’ to question texts, and ‘answer’ to each answer category, import it and watch the GUI populate your survey with all your questions and answers. The design tool offered a decent range of advanced interviewing features for routing, randomisations and so on, plus excellent support for multiple languages and character sets.
There is a full library facility to call in previous surveys, though, rather unhelpfully, no tools to help you search or organise these libraries. Neither are they sharable, unless you make them read-only.
The design tool has three main views: questions, logic and screens. You use the same views regardless of whether it is a CAPI, CATI or web interview. The logic view would be better described as ‘actions’, as you can attach routing logic or other actions to be performed before, during or after a question is presented. This makes it easy to understand even complex scripts, and some firms would find this a good way to split the work between research exec and technician, with one focusing on questions and the other on logic.
In ‘screens’ you get the system to generate the online appearance of the interview, which you can then fine-tune. Templating and the option to reuse work will cut down the actual decisions about look and feel for each job. The advantage of this approach is you can produce really nice looking CATI screens and place anything anywhere you want. But the disadvantage – and this could be major – is that this stage can be a major time sink, since you must check each screen to see that all the text is visible: there is no optimisation of
Askia: pros and cons
Pros
  • Strong on analysis: easy but very capable
  • Automated coding features including Acorn coding
  • Good-looking screens in all modes including CATI
Cons
  • CATI sampling and call management is limited
  • Screen set up can be tedious and time-consuming
  • Currently no documentation available in English
the placement of objects on screen, and if you are unlucky, half the text may be missing. You expect to do this hand-tuning for web surveys, but not for CATI.
Surveys are deployed through a module called CCA (Call Centre Administrator). This handles sample and quota control for CATI, survey allocation for CAPI and web invitations and sampling for web. One strong point is Askia’s ability to change surveys mid-flight without any downtime. A weakness is its limited functionality in the area of sample allocation and call management on CATI, particularly in scheduling high-priority call-backs.
Where Askia scores highly is on the analysis. The analysis module is a delight: simple to use, very fast when using large datasets, and goes much further than most tab packages, offering integrated charting and multivariate statistics such as regression-based mapping, modelling and classification. Whole sets of analyses can be set up in advance very productively using the GUI tool, then re-run when more data arrive.
It tempts fate to describe any features as unique, but certainly several coding/analysis capabilities are remarkably unusual. A word-search or lexical analysis coding module, based on a statistical model for handling open-ends, offers a fresh approach to coding and the potential to save lots of time.
Another time-saver is the ‘semi-open’ question, where interviewers can add to the pre-coded list, under supervisor control. Used effectively, coding can be done by the time the last quota fills. Best of all, Askia offers automated Acorn coding from UK postcodes, as an add-on, thanks to a deal Askia has struck with CACI. Provided you capture the full postcode, you will have several Acorn classifications to throw on to your tables at the analysis stage.
It is fortunate that all of the software is fairly intuitive to learn and use, thanks to the GUI, as there are no manuals in English, and the help, as well as some error messages, are still in French: something that is bound to change if the UK client list continues to grow.
RSM, a London-based agency specialising in IT and telecoms research has been using Askia for a year and a half for CATI and also web interviewing. Alexis Pamboris, a
Senior Research Exec at RSM, considers the interface for interviewers to be a strong point, as it cuts down considerably on training and also on the time to brief each project. He says: “Anyone that has been on the internet can understand this – it has an instantly recognisable user interface.”
He acknowledges it does take time to format the screens. “It is essentially a graphics application,” he states. “You need about a month before you can do the screens quickly. But you need to offset that against the advantage to the interviewer.”
He also praised the way web surveys integrate with CATI. “It’s easy to run a CATI questionnaire with a web supplement. As long as you are sensible about your design, you can merge the web and CATI together, even merging the quota.”
Pamboris considers that Askia compares well with other, established CATI products. RSM has used it successfully on complex, multi-country projects. He notes: “Like everything, there are limitations, but other systems have much bigger holes. This provides a very nice environment and is also very flexible for researchers.”

Askia: www.askia.com

Tim Macer writes as an independent specialist and advisor in software for market research. His website is at www.meaning.uk.com

Published in Research, the magazine of the Market Research Society, April 2002, Issue 431.

© Copyright Tim Macer/Market Research Society 2002. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.

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