NBRI Celebrates 30 Years of Research Excellence

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A look at NBRI’s Scientific, Psychological Research Practices

Conducting surveys seems simple enough: ask people questions, record their answers, and report the results. Even Roman Emperors polled their citizens in ancient times. But is it really that simple? Pure survey research that provides clean, unbiased information depends on key, scientific “leaps” made over the last 200 years. The following are tips on conducting surveys.

1. Ask the Right People
Rulers have used census surveys of the population for thousands of years. During the Middle Ages, respondents to such surveys typically consisted of authorities such as the clergy or nobles who reported the numbers and living conditions of their parishioners or serfs. The rulers mistrusted the “common person” to speak for him or (especially) herself. In the 1800s, Karl Marx relied on key informants (factory owners or trusted socialists) for information on working conditions of the poor.

When researchers asked factory workers and slum dwellers to report on their working and living conditions, a major revolution in survey research occurred. Henry Mayhew, a Scottish philosopher and social reformer, conducted sophisticated surveys of living conditions in Edinburgh in the early 19th century and asked ordinary people to report on their situation. The switch to respondent-based data removed major biases that result when one asks key informants to speak for a group. Obviously, a factory owner or manager might supply inaccurate information on wages and working conditions. This is not to say that modern respondents are always completely truthful. Social desirability bias, group think, and other psychological and sociological phenomenon continue to be important issues to be considered and addressed by scientific, psychological survey research.

2. Use Random Samples of Large Populations
The social reformist surveys undertaken by the Victorians typically interviewed 10,000 – 20,000 individuals to ensure representation. Statisticians have since demonstrated that it is unnecessary to sample 20,000 people to produce an unbiased idea of their economic situation or opinion. Today, it is common for surveys to be quite accurate with samples of 600 or less; for a National Poll of Canada, 1,000 – 1,600 respondents is a common sample size. It is faster and less expensive to use a smaller sample. A truly random selection process ensures the purity of the data obtained, while maximizing the time- and cost-benefits of utilizing significantly smaller populations.

3. Controlling Variables through Statistics
Medical researchers create careful experiments to ensure that only the intervention (e.g., chemical agent or drug) influences the test substance or subject. In social science, such control is much more difficult, if not impossible. Many uncontrollable factors influence survey research studies.

Multivariate statistical analyses provides the scientific, psychological researchers at NBRI with powerful methods to isolate and identify relationships within the data collected. These modern analysis methods identify key relationships within social data, and enhance the ability of NBRI Psychologists to support inferences about the population. One example of statistical control occurs when comparing the opinions of men and women.

4. Logistical Developments
In the mid-1930s, communication networks rapidly expanded throughout North America. Air travel greatly enhanced postal networks, and the telephone became a common household appliance. These developments allowed pollsters to contact large subsets of the population.

The Information Age has been driven by computer microminiaturization advances, with a transition spanning from the advent of the personal computer in the late 1970s to the internet reaching critical mass in the early 1990s, and the adoption of such technology by the public in the two decades since 1990. Bringing about a fast evolution of technology in daily life, the Information Age has allowed rapid global communications and networking to shape modern society.

In 2001, NBRI hired its first software developer. The initial task was to create a fully customizable survey system that could be used to create, deploy, manage, and report upon customer and employee surveys. Within months, a highly-sophisticated online survey system was fully operational, and NBRI was proud to add ‘electronic’ surveying to its paper and telephone survey offerings. Today, the functionality of the system is so expansive that standard reports can be configured to have over 10,000 different variations. NBRI’s custom, in-house survey system is at the very heart of NBRI, as it is the central depository for all data from all surveys, whether online, paper or telephone, and the engine through which complex, sophisticated calculations and custom reports for all Clients are generated.

About NBRI
NBRI has more than 30 years of experience in conducting scientific, psychological research for businesses. It has identified the issues that are universal to all organizations. With thousands of standardized survey questions that have been used by thousands of organizations and answered by millions of people, NBRI stands as an industry expert on employee engagement. NBRI can be found online at http://www.nbrii.com or by phone at 800-756-6188.


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Ken West
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