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A. Oppenheim

A. Oppenheim

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Published by Jelena Despotović

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Published by: Jelena Despotović on Aug 08, 2012
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Questionnaire Design in the Context of Information Research
The work reported here was part of a 5-year action research project to identify theinformation needs and information-seeking behaviours of social workers and their managers, with a view to introducing evaluated innovations in organizational informationsystems.The project had three phases:1. An observational study of staffs of social services departments, covering all aspects of information transfer and communication. Twenty-two members of staff, ranging fromBasic Grade Social Worker to Director of Social Services, were each observed for 1working week.2. Interviews of 151 members of staff, stratified by work role and randomly sampled fromstaff lists using random number tables. The work-role categories used were: Directorate,for the Assistant Director level and above; Middle Management, for managerial levelsdown to Area Director;Specialist, for Advisors, Training Officers, and Research Officers; Fieldworkers, for Senior Social Workers and Social Workers; and Administrative Support Staff, for Clerks, etc.3. An innovation phase in which a number of ideas for improving information transfer weretested in seven departments. The innovations were the direct result of the field-work experience, and were introduced in the departments through negotiation, not only at the topof the organization, but also with the levels of staff most directly affected. Consequently,the innovations adopted were those perceived by the staff to be the most likely to make acontribution to their daily work.The project as a whole has been widely discussed in the professional social-work press andin the information-science literature, and has led to occasional short courses in informationhandling and communication under the auspices of the National Institute for Social Work.
The results are readily accessible through a number of publications (seeWilson andStreatfield, 1977, 1980,1981; Streatfield and Wilson, 1980;Wilson
, 1978). In thischapter, I am concerned with an aspect of the project not previously discussed in detail: thedesign of our study questionnaire and its employment in the interviews.
The design of questionnaires involves a process with several general stages:1. Preliminary design work on the areas to be explored in the interview.2. Question wording and sequencing.3. Physical design or layout.Pilot testing may be part of any, or all, of these stages of design.In the standard texts on survey research methods, most attention is given to problems of question wording and sequencing and to physical design (see Hoinville,
, 1969;Moser and Kalton, 1971; Oppenheim, 1966). In only two of these texts is preliminary design work given any attention: Hoinville,
et al.
(1978: 9) note: "The soundest basis for developing structured questionnaires is preliminary small-scale qualitative work to identify ranges of behaviour, attitudes andissues." They then proceed to discuss in-depth interviewing and group interviews as theappropriate kinds of "qualitative work." Oppenheim (1966:. 25) comments: "The earlieststages of pilot work are likely to be exploratory. They might involve lengthy, unstructuredinterviews; talks with key informants; or the accumulation of essays written around thesubject of the inquiry." In none of the texts mentioned, however, is there any detaileddiscussion of the relationships between pilot work, or "qualitative work," and the morespecific aspects of questionnaire design. By presenting a case study, I intend to addressthese relationships.
As noted above, the first phase of Project INISS involved 22 person-weeks of observationin five social services departments. The form of observation used was 'structuredobservation,' as defined by Mintzberg:a method that couples the flexibility of open-ended observation with the discipline of seeking certain types of structured data. The researcher observes the manager as he performs his work. Each observed event... is categorized by the researcher in a number of ways ... as in the diary method, but with one important difference. The categories aredeveloped during the observation and after it takes place. (Mintzberg, 1973: 231)
The one amendment we made to this definition, in the case of Project INISS, is that theexplanatory categories were developed before, during, and after the observation, relying for the precategorization, in part, upon Mintzberg's work.All observed communication events (a change of event being signalled by a change in thesubject of communication) were recorded on edge-notched cards (see Figure 1) and, intotal, 5,839 such cards were produced for the 22 participants. Manual analysis was performed on the predetermined variables, such as duration of event, location of the event,and channel of communication used. Further definition of events in terms of the activityengaged in while communicating and the subject of the communication was carried outafter observation. The categorization of activity was performed using Mintzberg's analysisof managerial behaviour into interpersonal, informational, and decisional roles, slightlyexpanded by the inclusion of a "social work practitioner" role, a "decision-seeker" role, anda "negotiation-prompter" role, to account for observed non-managerial roles. A simpleclassification scheme employing two facets, "client or organization focus" and "servicefocus," was used to categorize the subject of communication events.Structured observation, therefore, served primarily the purpose of collecting quantitativedata. However, it also had an important qualitative significance, in that the observersdeveloped an understanding of the nature of social services work and of the relationships between information channels and information types and the work carried out by differentcategories of staff in the departments.

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