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Interviewer-driven Variability in Social Network Reporting: Results from Health and Aging in Africa: a Longitudinal Study of an INDEPTH community (HAALSI) in South Africa

Harling, GD; Perkins, JM; Xavier Gómez-Olivé, F; Morris, K; Wagner, RG; Montana, L; Kabudula, CW; ... Berkman, L; + view all (2018) Interviewer-driven Variability in Social Network Reporting: Results from Health and Aging in Africa: a Longitudinal Study of an INDEPTH community (HAALSI) in South Africa. Field Methods , 30 (2) pp. 140-154. 10.1177/1525822X18769498. Green open access

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Abstract

Social network analysis depends on how social ties to others are elicited during interviews, a process easily affected by respondent and interviewer behaviors. We investigate how the number of self-reported important social contacts varied within a single data collection round. Our data come from Health and Aging in Africa: a Longitudinal Study of an INDEPTH community (HAALSI), a comprehensive population-based survey of individuals aged 40 years and older conducted over 13 months at the Agincourt health and demographic surveillance site in rural South Africa. As part of HAALSI, interviewers elicited detailed egocentric network data. The average number of contacts reported by the 5,059 respondents both varied significantly across interviewers and fell over time as the data collection progressed, even after adjusting for respondent, interviewer, and respondent–interviewer dyad characteristics. Contact numbers rose substantially after a targeted interviewer intervention. We conclude that checking (and adjusting) for interviewer effects, even within one data collection round, is critical to valid and reliable social network analysis. Measurements of social networks depend on the number and type of social ties to others (Berkman et al. 2000; Smith and Christakis 2008). These ties are typically elicited through interviews, a process easily affected by respondent or interviewer characteristics and behaviors. Understanding social network structure and composition requires substantial amounts of information from respondents (“egos”) about the people (“alters”) they have relationships with (Marsden 1990). Notably, the survey burden associated with network data collection depends heavily on the number of alters elicited through “name generator” questions: Each alter named leads to the repetition of all follow-up questions characterizing the ego–alter relationship (“name interpreters”; Burt 1984). Interviewers have been identified as a key source of variation in survey responses, particularly for questions that are attitudinal, ambiguous, or have complex skip patterns (West and Blom 2016). Several studies have previously identified interviewer effects on network size (Brüderl et al. 2013; Josten and Trappmann 2016; Marsden 2003; Paik and Sanchagrin 2013; van Tilburg 1998). These interviewer effects may arise from differential understanding of survey questions, and therefore how questions are presented to respondents. Interviewers can also affect which alters are elicited due to their own characteristics (e.g., sex, race, age, or experience), or the nature of the interviewer–respondent dyad (e.g., gender, race, or age homophily), leading to different lines of enquiry, levels of probing, or expectations of social acceptability (Collins 1980; Hox 1994; Marsden 2003; Phung et al. 2015). Furthermore, if respondents or interviewers are aware that naming more alters substantially increases survey length, then either group may consciously or unconsciously seek to minimize the number of alters named (Eagle and Proeschold-Bell 2015; van der Zouwen and van Tilburg 2001). In cross-sectional surveys, the opportunities for respondents to learn are limited, but those for interviewers will increase as the survey period progresses. Interviewers may try to reduce survey burden, either for themselves or for respondents, by favoring language or probes that decrease the number of alters elicited. Indeed, past studies in Europe have found evidence of interviewers intentionally filtering out questions by entering fewer responses that would trigger more questions. Such filtering behavior has been seen in Europe for interviewers who are being compensated by the interview rather than by the hour (Josten and Trappmann 2016; Kosyakova et al. 2014), for interviewers with prior experience using the relevant screening tool (Matschinger et al. 2005), and where interviewers are under substantial pressure to complete more interviews (Schnell and Kreuter 2000). We aim to extend this literature by assessing how the number of alters elicited systematically changed over the course of a cross-sectional social network survey of older adults in rural South Africa. We show a substantial drop in alter numbers over time, and a swift reversal following retraining, providing substantial evidence for interviewer effects.

Type: Article
Title: Interviewer-driven Variability in Social Network Reporting: Results from Health and Aging in Africa: a Longitudinal Study of an INDEPTH community (HAALSI) in South Africa
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1177/1525822X18769498
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1177/1525822X18769498
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Institute for Global Health
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10047243
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