What is the Kenai Resident Survey About?
The 2014 Survey of Kenai Peninsula Residents is a survey created for understanding community resources, ties to land and the outdoors, and potential responses to change. The summarized results from the study will provide an understanding of how residents use and value local resources such as land, water, social ties, and information. Results will be used with local residents and community groups to assist in the identification of appropriate ways to respond to any changes.
The responses will also be used for analysis on demographics, economics, and landscape. Those analyses will be integrated with ecological research on the Kenai Peninsula to better understand how communities might respond to change. We will also present the survey results publicly and use the survey to develop educational materials.
The social survey is a common research method used to assess the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of people in a community. Once you learn the attitudes of a community you can try to understand relationships among various factors and possibly make predictions based on those connections. You can use surveys to anticipate things to come and adapt to changing conditions in society. Surveys might be used to try to determine the effectiveness of certain policies, find out if people support planning decisions, or explore the concerns and goals of a community, as just a few examples. Social surveys are based on the idea that you do not need to talk to every single person to get an idea of what a population thinks about an issue. You just need to carefully plan who to speak with and how. It may be a surprise to hear that if a survey is well planned, information from a few hundred people can represent a population of several million!
As part of refining research questions, social scientists decide what population they will be surveying, or in other words, who they want to learn more about. They need to make sure their planned analysis will be supported by their sampling approach. For example, if they want to look at why individuals make certain environmental choices, they would sample individual people instead of households. The scale in a survey can vary, from an individual, to a small town, to comparing multiple countries. In many cases it is impractical to survey everyone in an entire population, because it is either too large or spread out. However, as it was mentioned before, it is possible to survey a portion of the population and still get results that represent the population overall. The key to this is surveying a representative sample of the population. This means the sample population should be similar to the entire population being studied. For example, if you were interested in surveying adult residents on the Kenai Peninsula, you would need to make sure your sample includes men AND women. Otherwise, your survey would not truly reflect all adults on the peninsula. Your sample must accurately represent the population being studied so that the results can be applied to the entire population.
There are many details to decide before administering a survey. All surveys should go through several stages of development and testing. The questions and format (survey mode) need to be appropriate for the way people will take the survey, whether over the phone, in person, online at a computer, with a smart phone app, or through the mail. Sometimes a survey could be a mix of approaches, with some respondents taking the survey by mail and others taking it online. It is important for scientists to carefully choose the survey format, because they could unintentionally exclude a group of people from their survey, making it unrepresentative. For example, if you are doing an online survey of rural areas in Alaska where people might have limited internet access, you are not likely to get responses that represent everyone who lives there.
Types of Questions
A social survey generally includes a standard questionnaire so comparisons can be made. If the wording of questions changed in each survey packet, it would be hard to tell whether varying answers were because of different opinions or due to different questions. Question type is another important survey aspect. Survey questions can include questions that are closed-ended (quantitative), open-ended (qualitative), or a mix of question types. Closed-ended questions limit the possible responses (e.g. yes/no, a/b/c/d, etc.). Open-ended questions allow a person to choose their own wording. For example, an open-ended question might ask: "Why do you choose to live on the Kenai Peninsula?". In addition to questions covering the main survey topic, questionnaires generally include a section with demographic questions. Demographics are quantifiable statistics for a group of people. Commonly examined demographics include gender, age, ethnicity, location, home ownership, employment status, income, and even knowledge of languages. View demographics for the 2014 Survey of Kenai Peninsula Residents here.
Why do demographic questions matter? Although many people are hesitant to share information they might feel is somewhat personal, researchers need demographic data to determine how a group of respondents is (or is not!) related to the wider population being researched. Even with a lot of respondents, without demographic data you may not know if your survey population is representative. In surveys, researchers need to consider whether there is bias in who responded, and whose opinions or experiences they might be missing. It is important to note that a participant's privacy is protected in formal social science research. At universities, researchers doing surveys need to submit their research plans for review by an institutional review board (IRB), a committee that has been formally designated to review, monitor, and approve any research involving people or animals. You can find more information on the IRB at the University of Alaska Anchorage here.
After the responses from the population have been collected, social scientists review the responses to make sure people answered questions consistently and that they reached the intended variety of people. As mentioned above, it's important to know who did and did not respond to your survey and whether that means there could be bias in your data (nonresponse bias). Researchers then analyze the data, using a range of methods depending on the types of questions. This may include categorizing and exploring themes in responses to open-ended questions, or it could include comparing counts of different responses and regression. For example, a researcher might take the responses to two questions ("Where do you live?" and "How long do you plan to stay on the Kenai?") and run a correlation test. From the results, they may be able to determine which community has members who plan to stay on the Kenai the longest. Through analysis, researchers may begin to uncover the relationships within the information they have collected.
Social surveys are useful tools that can provide data about a variety of populations. This insight can help individuals, community groups, and government bodies to better understand their community for making informed decisions and planning for the future.
- A good source on social research methods: http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/survey.php. The site includes sections on survey methods and response format, among others.
- For more on the AK EPSCoR Southcentral Test Case: http://southcentral.epscor.alaska.edu/home.