Can encouraging respondents to contact interviewers to make appointments boost co-operation rates and save costs? Evidence from a randomised experiment in the UK

Publication type

Research Paper

Series Number



CLS Working Paper Series


Publication date

September 15, 2013


Within an international context of declining survey response
rates and increasing survey costs, there is increasing emphasis on finding
innovative ways to maintain response rates and improving the cost-effectiveness
of fieldwork effort. One of the main components of survey costs is interviewer
call attempts associated with making contact. An innovative approach to
reducing these costs, pioneered by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC)
on the 1979 cohort of the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth (NLS79) in the
US, is to encourage, using an additional incentive, sample members to initiate
contact and book an appointment for their interview, rather than waiting for an
interviewer to contact them. This paper describes a randomised experiment,
conducted on the Innovation Panel of Understanding Society: the UK Household
Longitudinal Study (UKHLS) in 2011, which sought to evaluate whether this
‘early bird’ approach could be successful in a UK context. Our experiment also
included a treatment group who were not offered an incentive to become an
‘early-bird’ and were instead encouraged to book an appointment by an appeal to altruism. We found that
significantly fewer call attempts were required for households who took up the
early-bird offer. Our experimental and analytical approach meant that we were
able to robustly attribute this reduction to the take-up of the offer. No
impact on response rates was detected. We also found that although some respondents
took up the offer as a result of the appeal to altruism, a higher proportion
did so when an incentive to become an ‘early-bird’ was offered. However,
overall the take-up of the early-bird offer was relatively low, and much lower
than on NLSY79, and for this reason there was no overall reduction in fieldwork
effort. This implies that the early-bird approach has the potential to reduce
costs, but that further research is needed to examine ways of encouraging a
higher proportion of respondents to set-up appointments for themselves.



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