Anonymous or Blind Telephone Research
There are two different scenarios that anonymous or blind telephone research can refer to:
- Scenario One: Protecting the individual’s identity and individual responses
- Scenario Two: Not disclosing the sponsor of the research
We will attempt to answer both scenarios and then provide some independent articles on the topics.
Scenario One: Protecting the identity and specific responses of individuals
- First, without specific approval of the respondent, using and/or collecting individual respondent names or responses is a direct violation of the Market Research Association’s Code of Ethics. Like other professional organizations we have a code of ethics that we need to adhere to. In a number of states, without full disclosure to the respondent and gaining their specific permission, this can also be illegal.
- Market research firms, political parties, charitable organizations and some others are exempt from the National Do Not Call List. If we collect, use, and/or disseminate individual information, we may lose that exemption – hence adversely affecting the make-up of the survey respondents.
- If one does not offer anonymity to both the respondent’s name and individual responses, the respondent will treat the call as if it is a “sales call” or telemarketing and will generally:
- Refuse to do the study (generally destroying response rates and compromising the statistical validity of the data)
- Give vague, incomplete, or even misleading information.
- The bottom line is that there is only one reason and one reason only to not offer anonymity to the individual names and their responses – that reason is typically sales related. Action will be taken based on individual names and responses – in essence, their responses will be used to their detriment.
Scenario Two: Not disclosing the sponsor of the research
In a membership or customer study, if the client is disclosed up front as the sponsor of the study, a few things happen:
- Your respondents will be skewed to members who think most highly of the client, this introduces response bias, meaning your data will be skewed.
- Second, your respondents will make the mental transition and behave as if they were talking directly to the client, withhold negative information and messages they think the client will not want to hear.
- In reality, once we reach a point in the questionnaire where we keep coming back to just the client, the respondent will guess who the sponsor of the study is, however, they will not know for sure. This bit of doubt means that they will not be sure if the research is being done to help the client or for another organization, that has a different agenda.
The following few articles may provide further insight.
The following is an excerpt from: “Revealing Sponsorship of Your Market Research Project” by Kathryn Korostoff, Research Rockstar LLC, (part of Chapter 2: Defining Your Project’s Scope)
“Defining your project scope also includes whether or not to reveal the sponsor of your market research study. Read these guidelines for help making this decision based on best practices and common exceptions.
Now that you are familiar with common types of market research studies, you’ll be better able to communicate your needs and expectations to potential agencies.
After you ponder project scope (i.e., what type of market research study you want to fund), another important consideration is whether or not the research will be blind. In the world of research, blind means that the sponsor is kept anonymous.
You probably have experienced this yourself. Perhaps you have received a call at home asking you to participate in a survey from XYZ research company. XYZ doesn’t tell you who is sponsoring the survey, so this research is blind.
Once the researcher starts asking questions, you might have an educated guess as to the sponsoring company. For example, if the researcher asks you questions about automobiles and keeps coming back to comparisons of Honda and Toyota, you might guess that one of those companies is the sponsor. Because you aren’t sure, though, the assumption is that your answers will be as unbiased as possible.” [Emphasis added]
In contrast, if you knew the survey was sponsored by Toyota, and you happen to be a loyal Toyota customer, you might give biased results—unintentional, perhaps, but still biased.
In most cases the ideal is to keep research blind, to minimize the risk of bias. However, two common exceptions are as follows:
Exception 1: The project is being done using your own customer lists. In this case, due to privacy concerns, you may need to reveal yourself as the sponsor. Customers can get very upset if they feel their contact information has been shared with third parties without their express permission.
In some cases, there can even be legal ramifications. For example, perhaps you want to do a customer satisfaction study among recent purchasers; this will clearly not be blind—they will know you are the sponsor. If you are not sure what is required, ask your legal department.
Exception 2: You are surveying a very hard-to-find population, and you have to take every possible step to get qualified participants.
For example, you are looking to survey people who use a very niche software product—not many people use it—and when you are able to reach these precious few, you need to maximize the chance they will comply with the request to take the survey. Sometimes revealing the sponsor can help get them interested. In this case, it’s not ideal, but it might be an acceptable compromise.
“Blind and Branded Research,” as explained by DJS Research Ltd.
Branded research is research done where the participants know the company or organization that has subsidized the research. The decision to tell participants the name of the sponsor company often centers on the ease of finding respondents (which is often easier if the sponsor is known) compared to the bias that is created by the respondent knowing which organization he or she is giving information to.
Therefore, the researchers will frequently choose not to disclose the name of the sponsor, therefore removing the potential for bias but making it slightly more difficult to find respondents. This kind of research is called blind research and is the method used most frequently by most researchers.”
Double Blind Experiment
A double blind experiment is an experimental method used to ensure impartiality, and avoid errors arising from bias.
It is very easy for a researcher, even subconsciously, to influence experimental observations, especially in behavioral science, so this method provides an extra check.
For example, imagine that a company is asking consumers for opinions about its products, using a survey.
There is a distinct danger that the interviewer may subconsciously emphasize the company’s products when asking the questions. This is the major reason why market research companies generally prefer to use computers, and double blind experiments, for gathering important data.
The Blind Experiment
The blind experiment is the minimum standard for any test involving subjects and opinions, and failure to adhere to this principle may result in experimental flaws.
The idea is that the groups studied, including the control, should not be aware of the group in which they are placed. In medicine, when researchers are testing a new medicine, they ensure that the placebo looks, and tastes, the same as the actual medicine.
There is strong evidence of a placebo effect as with medicine, where, if people believe that they are receiving a medicine, they show some signs of improvement in health. A blind experiment reduces the risk of bias from this effect, giving an honest baseline for the research, and allowing a realistic statistical comparison.
Ideally, the subjects would not be told that a placebo was being used at all, but this is regarded as unethical.