Researching Trust: Jordan McCarthy’s questionnaire

Over the past 12 months or so I have been keeping an eye on online surveys, questionnaire styles and data collection methods in more general. I found requests to complete online surveys in social networking sites such as Xing and Facebook as well as on daily lists issued by associations I am a member of and followed all of them, curious to learn and gain a sense of what constitutes good practice from the participant’s perspective.

80% of the surveys I attempted to fill in I abonded within a few minutes – more often than not I found the questions asked were designed to an annoying degree to provide the researching individual with neatly packaged data rather than aiming at an understanding of my meaning-making processes and practices or patterns of consumption. A number of online surveys were so heavily shaped by cultural centrism (the US-centric, the German-centric view etc) that I wondered why these researchers even bothered posting on sites where audiences/potential participants were obviously drawn from a wider cross-cultural background.

I found it amazing how restrictively surveys can be structured and how little information in some cases is provided as to the wider picture, the distribution, the funding (and implied interest parties) and the aims and objective of the project.

  • Where is the data I provide going to end up?
  • Where and when will I be able to obtain a copy of the results?
  • What happens with the data once I decide to drop out in the midst of the session?

Some researchers did not seem to have ever heard of the use of vignettes (i.e. a brief illustrating description or a mini-narrative) nor did they convey a sense of understanding the power/inequality issues involved in research.

Those surveys developed with the particpant’s well-being in mind – ethical issues should constitute a considerable part of postgraduate studies but don’t seem to inform survey designs as much as one might anticipate – manage to convey a sense of trust and respect that is vital, I think. In this regard, I found Jordan McCarthy’s survey a pleasant surprise and rather exceptional. The questionnaire is well-crafted, the style of asking helps to develop a sense of trust, mainly because Jordan has chosen a very thoughtful way and a fair amount of open-ended questions that gave me a sense of being listened to.

Many researchers use such comments provided in textfields as quotable material, which means they actually give a voice to the participants if they use such quotes in a responsible and meaningfull manner (a few years ago a German researcher ripped many of my quotes out of context and imposed her -wrong- interpretations on them – the experience left me with a strong sense of powerlessness – and what damage poorly conducted research can do to participants/interlocutors)Jordan McCarthy is a student at Standford University who is doing

“a bit of research on how our conceptions and practices of trust may be changing as we adapt to various online environments”

The full announcement with contact details is available on the AoIR server
And on a final, more practical note, I can confirm that the announced 10-20 minutes duration of participation were perfectly sufficient.  The self-completion online survey can be found here: on Surveymonkey

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About Britta Bohlinger, CFE

Founder and Director of RisikoKlár in Iceland. Native German, global perspective - previously in London and Berlin.
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