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Behind the light rail survey

By Charlotte Harper 21 October 2015 34

Survey methodology

Surveys into whether we Canberrans are for or against the ACT Government’s planned light rail system have been in the news all week, and many of our readers have questioned the research methods used.

We contacted Piazza Research, the Phillip-based company contracted to undertake surveys on light rail for the ACT Government, to find out how they operate and seek answers to questions like these from one of our readers:

“If a lot of the calls are made to mobile numbers (which are unlisted), so how does the pollster know which mobile number to call?”

“There must be a list provided of numbers that relate to Canberra people only so who is providing that list?”

“If random calls are being made to mobile numbers does this mean people in Perth or Darwin or Woop Woop are having their answers logged?”

Piazza Research director Grant Piazza says any research undertaken by his company has to be transparent and able to be critiqued.

He says Piazza Research includes mobile numbers in its sampling for phone surveys because there is a known age skew in using only landlines.

The pollster says his company uses an industry-certified supplier of phone numbers for research purposes, the same supplier used by market research giants like Nielsen and Newspoll. The name of the supplier is commercial in confidence.

The supplied numbers come initially from phone companies and are regularly tested using digital methods for geolocality and validity. Piazza says many mobile phone numbers arrive from the industry-certified supplier with geolocality data attached, but in any case Piazza Research asks for suburb of residence during the survey and removes those not in ACT from the sample.

To start with, Piazza Research receives a list of numbers that is much larger than needed then digitally selects a random sample to call. If skews are detected, they weight the data using a statistical procedure to remove the skew so results can be generalised to the ACT population.

The company stores caller data and responses in a secure server in Canberra. Those interviewed remain anonymous and are not identified during the research. Piazza Research does not identify individuals in any research project without their informed and specific consent.

The company is a quality certified social and market research organisation (ISO 20252) governed by rules set by the industry’s peak body, the Association of Market and Social Research Organisations (AMSRO). Piazza says ‘Mickey Mouse’ researchers can’t get into AMSRO. Piazza Research is also governed by its professional body, the Australian Market and Social Research Society (AMSRS). Every ISO-certified firm’s senior staff must be members of this organisation.

Piazza Research is audited every year to ensure their research methodology is correct.

As researchers, they don’t care whether the results are negative or positive for the client, they care whether the result is accurate and representative, Grant Piazza says.

Individual researchers may have views of their own, but when they design a research question it goes through 15 technical checks (to ensure it is useful, easy to understand, comprehensive enough and unbiased among other things).

Survey consultants design and check questions then a colleague checks and edits them. Often Piazza Research will run a pilot or test survey to verify that in a real situation people understand the questions and that the questions are appropriate.

Interviewers are trained. They’re not telemarketers and Piazza Research never engages in sales activity on behalf of its clients. It only collects information for research, Grant Piazza says.







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