| Imagine a world where the car you drove determined which petrol stations you could use, or the bank receiving your salary dictated the shops and supermarkets where you were able to spend it. Absurd, yet, with research data, this is a common conundrum facing large research customers wanting to use the same analytical tools on all trackers and ad hoc projects regardless of where they came from, or which particular CATI, web or data entry package was used to collect them.
One software manufacturer, Pulse Train, has instigated an R&D project, codenamed Project Chameleon, to find ways to overcome the problems of getting surveys from different systems ready for analysis and publication in their preferred software. The key is for all this to be initiated and controlled by the researcher, through web-based interfaces, and to take into account not just the question definition (which a triple-s link will give you) but even the researchers marginalia about editing or analysis treatments and populate the resulting analysis environment with appropriately edited, filtered and weighted data.
|Our aim is to reduce the duplication of specification, says Pulse Trains Chairman, Geoffrey Roughton. Ultimately the idea is to go from a paper questionnaire directly to results on the web. I dont believe you can cut out experienced DP people altogether, but you can certainly make everyones life a lot easier.
The project, into which Pulse Train has sunk £50,000 of its own cash, has reached a prototype stage, and the firm is using this to present the idea and raise interest among potential users. It is offering a limited number of free trials on an R&D basis to anyone interested, from 1 December.
So far, two transformations are up and running: from Pulse Trains own QSL/Bellview and from FIRMs Confirmit, and at present, the only target is the companys own Pulsar reporting system. Triple-s is another possible source, but the standard is not rich enough to be able to determine the analytical requirements without a lot of intervention.
Next up for implementation are surveys from CfMC and NIPO. Other destinations than Pulsar are possible, because of the generalised XML-based nature of Chameleon.
| The choice of XML is crucial as many other vendors are also using flavours of XML to describe their own proprietary survey definitions, and it gives access to a lot of open-source tools and ready-built solutions for data handling on the internet.
Roughton states he is committed to being open and will describe the methods in detail. Conceptually it could run any system - and we would be willing to work with others wanting to use this technology.
He has already involved notable alumni from MRs emerging open standards field. From OpenSurvey, Ed Ross is acting as a consultant, and Andrew Jeavons is now a VP at Pulse Trains US sister company, while Geoff Wright of triple-s is also engaged in the project. Chameleon now has its first paying client, and serious interest from others, including one big-name research consortium.
It is the kind of commitment that this initiative will need to make adding that next research project to a web portal as routine as filling up on unleaded.
Pulse Train: www.pulsetrain.com
Tim Macer's website is at www.meaning.uk.com