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Methodological Innovations Online (2010) 5(2) 17-25

Construction and field application of an indirect sampling method (time-location


sampling): an example of surveys carried out on homeless persons
and drug users in France
Martine Quagliaa, Graldine Viviera
a

Institut National dtudes Dmographiques (INED)

Abstract
Since the mid-1990s, Time-Location Sampling methods have been widely used in France in quantitative research about
the homeless (Marpsat and Firdion, 2000; Brousse, 2002) and drug users (Emmanuelli et al. 2003; Jauffret-Roustide et al.
2006). Adapted from methods of indirect sampling initially developed in the United States (Burt and Cohen, 1989;
Dennis and Iachan, 1993), they enable the design of representative samples of hard-to-reach populations for whom there
are no sample frames, by basing it on support facilities for the populations of interest: day centres, soup kitchens,
accommodation services, health care, mobile teams etc. However, in transition from the theoretical protocol to its
implementation, various difficulties emerge. In particular, the necessary involvement of these support services; the
constraints associated with the administering of questionnaires in sometimes very particular conditions (at night, in
public places or while following mobile teams) and the singular organisation of each of the services that has to be
involved means that challenges occur as regards coverage of the field being investigated and the representativeness of the
sample. These challenges mean that the method has to be appropriately and pragmatically adapted to the various
configurations that are met with. In this perspective, we will show how the integration of qualitative methods, such as the
observation of the services and the realisation of in-depth interviews with the persons in charge of them, have
contributed, along the various data collections and with the accumulation of experiences, to improve the methodology of
and the scope covered by quantitative surveys.

Keywords: Time-location sampling, qualitative methods, fieldwork, homeless, drug users


Introduction
Against the background of a growing social demand and following the creation of a working group on the
homeless initiated by the Conseil National de l'Information Statistique (National Council of Statistical
Information) in 1993, various surveys among homeless populations have been carried out in France since the
middle of the 1990s. This working groups principal objectives were to fill the gaps in the inventory of
marginal housing situations1 and to gain a better understanding of these populations. The various surveys
carried out at the INED (Marpsat and Firdion, 2000, 2001; Marpsat et al. 20022) and at the INSEE - Institut
1

Such as accommodation provided by associations, persons with temporary accommodation in a home or populations
housed in a hostel or centre for migrant workers or young workers.
2
For articles in English, see bibliography.

Correspondence: M. Quaglia, Institut National d'Etudes Dmographiques, 133 boulevard Davout, 75980 Paris cedex 20,
France. Tel.: 33 1 56 06 22 94. E-mail: quaglia@ined.fr
ISSN: 1748-0612online
DOI: 10.4256/mio.2010.0015

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National de la Statistique et des tudes conomiques - National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Brousse et al. 2002b) were based on the indirect sampling methods developed at the end of the nineteeneighties in the United States (Burt and Cohen, 1989; Dennis and Iachan, 1993).
As these experiments continued, these main methodological principles were extended and adapted to other
populations that are hard to reach and to interview, such as drug users (Emmanuelli et al. 2003; Vivier et al.
2005; Jauffret-Roustide M. et al. 20063). This article presents the TLS (Time-Location Sampling) methods
used in these surveys4 and recounts the chief advances that occurred in the course of collection and the
inherent challenges and difficulties in their implementation, from the sampling stages to those of data
collection in the field. We shall also show how the integration of qualitative methods, in other words
observation in the field and carrying out interviews with social workers, has helped to improve methodology
and coverage of the field by quantitative surveys.

The methodological principles of these surveys


Constructing the sampling frame: the challenges in terms of coverage of the surveys field
The common problem in studies among homeless persons and drug users is how to locate the persons targeted
by the survey. Homeless people by definition have no fixed and independent abode in which they could be
interviewed. On the other hand, sending interviewers into ordinary homes to meet drug users would not be
acceptable either. The method used for these surveys is, therefore, to meet people through the services
provided for them. In other words, for interviewing homeless persons this means accommodation services
and free restaurants which are supplemented in some surveys of the homeless by outreach teams who go to
meet people living rough. When interviewing drug users, reception services and care settings are the most
important part of the sampling base, but the specialist accommodation services and outreach teams, in
particular those associated with the Needle Exchange Programme, are included.
The sampling frame thus defines in part the scope of the survey and its limits in relation to the field targeted.
In fact, the surveys on homeless persons or drug users are, to be more precise, surveys on the users of services
provided to assist these persons. People who do not go to these organisations elude the study. Once this limit
has been stated, one of the essential goals is to cover the entire range of existing services as effectively as
possible and to keep an up-to-date database, whose contents will fluctuate considerably (due to the creation
and closure of organisations and the nature and volume of variable activities).
Using various national or local files and directories, particularly of federations of associations which provide
an inventory of organisations operating in the area under investigation, the first stage is therefore to construct
a frame of existing services. The next step is to draw up the most exhaustive and up-to-date inventory
possible, without any duplication, of the organisations offering services (meals, accommodation, health care,
etc.) to the studys target populations. Then, information about their mode of operation and activities is
collected. An interview (by phone or face-to-face) with the listed organisations makes it possible:
to present the research to the managers of the organisations,
to identify each service and the type of services offered,
to eliminate services outside the scope,
to estimate the take-up of services: number of services (meals, overnights, medical

consultations, etc.) provided on an average day,


to gain an understanding of the services rules of operation, in particular their opening days
and hours.

3
4

See also the article by M. Jauffret-Roustide and Y. Le Strat in this issue.


The list of these TLS surveys is given at the end of the article.

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This stage, which is necessary for the creation of a sampling frame is also a first stage in preparation for work
in the field and interaction with those involved in the associations and institutions and in which the planned
survey will be introduced. In itself, it constitutes a preliminary survey which, depending on the magnitude and
density of the associations and institutions organisations, may require several months of preparation.
Sampling in several stages
The sampling frame includes several stages. The method consists of taking a sample from the entire set of
services provided by the meal and accommodation services on one survey day. The various sampling stages
are as follows:

selecting the cities (for a national survey);


selecting the services and days for the survey in the sampling frame;
selecting the individuals through the services they use in each service selected.

The primary sampling unit for services and survey days is the service-day, i.e. all of the services provided by a
service on a particular survey day. The services are selected in proportion to the numbers they can receive on
a weekly basis. In order to ensure that selection is undertaken from a frame representing the diversity of
services, an implicit stratification also exists in the shelters and restaurant services according to the category
of populations received and in decreasing volume of activity.
Taking account of the variety and organisation of services which, due to their different policies, care for
different population profiles, allows the survey to be made more representative. Constructing a sampling
frame made up of services intended for different types of homeless persons is therefore the first condition to
meet before proceeding to sampling in such a way as to include a selection of services and of survey days.
Finally, in each service selected, a selection is made of users through the services from which they benefit. In
other words, the sampling undertaken is not of individuals but of services provided by the service providers.
The dates for intervention are planned and the total number of questionnaires to be completed in each service
is determined in proportion to the weekly reception capacity. Thus, a fixed number of service-days studied are
determined: 4 to 6 users benefiting from these services at the service provider in question on the day of the
survey are randomly selected by the interviewer in the field.
Finally, addressing duplication (Brousse et al. 2006, p.134) and calculating weightings are the final steps
needed in order to take a representative sample. The weight share method used (Lavalle, 1995); Ardilly and
Le Blanc, 2001) consists of correcting the differences in individual probabilities of inclusion in the sample due
to users more or less frequent take-up of services. To this end, the first part of the questionnaire includes a
series of questions on how often those interviewed have visited the various service providers included in the
survey over the week preceding the survey.

Methodological principles and their practical implications in the field


Covering the full range of services
Apart from the inventory being exhaustive, coverage of the scope depends on the feasibility of the survey in
each service in relation to its own set-up, in particular its degree of specialisation. Thus, the day or residential
centres are visited by homeless persons, but homeless people do not always make up the majority of their
visitors. In the French surveys, the inclusion of these non-specialist services was debated in terms of financial
and logistical costs and the benefits expected in terms of coverage of the field.
Certain American surveys (Turnham, Wilson and Burt, 2004), on the other hand, included all the services
capable of receiving homeless persons. While including all the services resolves the problem of coverage of
the scope, including fewer services allows a weekly calendar to be used specifying the place visited and also
makes it possible to check whether the service mentioned comes within the sampling frame. Since the number

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of links (use of services the week before the survey) varies over a narrower range, the weightings are also less
dispersed.
Convincing medical and social workers
The ability to convince the organisations to take part in the study is another difficulty. From incompatibilities
between the concerns of researchers and those of professionals working in the field to the fear of the
stigmatisation of users, the obstacles are numerous. The reticence of those working in the organisations is
generally aimed at protecting the users and the relationship built up with them but their obstruction also
derives sometimes from the assumption that these populations will be unable to reply to a questionnaire.
Sensitive data adapted to our categories
Finally, a further difficulty concerns collecting the most reliable information possible on sensitive data such
as the volume of activity of the services interviewed, which is directly associated with the financing of
associations and institutions managing the services. In general, the data collected on activities carried out
tends to be overvalued by comparison with the number of users actually observed by the interviewers in the
field. However, apart from the financial implications of these data, their validity also depends on modes of
recording the activities carried out in these services. The functional categories used by the organisations do
not necessarily correspond to the needs of the study. Thus, for example, the data from an activity report are
frequently annual or monthly, while the information sought for the survey will relate to daily and/or weekly
visits to the services. The same applies to the age of service users, where our categories may also differ from
those constructed for the needs of the service in question. Thus, precautions must be taken and adjustments
made in order to distinguish the number of services from the number of persons, for example, or to estimate
the daily activity on the basis of the monthly data.
Highly formalised selection instructions
It is the interviewers, some of whom have been trained as samplers, who carry out the final stage of sampling
when they collect the data. They have to select people at random, using various methods explained during
their training, while counting the number of users of the service in question on day D. The application of these
random sampling methods, which is necessary from a statistical point of view, is also indispensable in terms
of data collection. Following the selection instructions to the letter helps interviewers to avoid the temptation
of, for example, choosing people whose physical appearance is less scarred by a precarious existence or
eliminating those who initially appear incapable of answering. Adherence to and monitoring of the
instructions associated with selection therefore allows them to overcome their fears and preconceptions they
may have about homeless people or drug users.
An organisation adapted to the field
While enumeration of users is indispensable for calculating each users inclusion probability, its practical
implementation presupposes working in pairs (interviewer/sampler) where the financial resources and
conditions in the field permit this, or enrolling the assistance of a member of the service. This also
presupposes the capacity, depending on the surveys, to identify the population targeted by the study clearly,
distinguishing service users from non-users, persons under 25 years (in a survey targeting young people), nonfluent in French etc. This is not always straightforward, in particularly if several services are provided in the
same space (e.g. day centre and needle exchange programme, emergency shelters and interim accommodation
for those being reinserted into society) or if the survey is carried out in a public space occupied not only by
homeless people but also by passers-by and others. For example, in order to distinguish those under 25 from
other users excluded from the survey on homeless young people, it was decided to distribute two different lists
of services at the restaurants, one of which consisted of services intended for people under 25 years. These
lists, which were well received by the persons using these restaurants, made it possible to record all persons
using the service and also those addressed by the survey, i.e. young people.

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Finally, sampling methods depend on whether or not the activity is foreseeable (meeting, reservation, all
comers) and also on the operation of the services (queues, itineraries followed by the users, single entrance or
several, etc.). Thus, the principle of random selection is supplemented by that of the interviewers adaptation
to the environment in which they will have to make their selection. The interviewers have to be able to adapt
the methods and simplify them if the situation so requires. Thus, in the least organised services (in particular
those that are provided in public spaces), the selection instructions for mobile teams sometimes consisted of
selecting the nth person to the interviewers right within the group availing of the service.
A preliminary visit to each service
In order to carry out sampling, enumeration and interviews effectively, it is absolutely essential to visit each of
the services where the interviewer will be operating. This is a key stage in adapting to the field. Thus, this first
stage of the interviewers observation makes it possible:
to make contact with the teams working in the service,
to update the data collected during the inventory,
to understand how the service operates and its real structure,
to choose the random selection method that is best suited to the service.

Ensuring that surveys are representative, confidentiality and monitoring for bias in selection
Collection through the services requires adaptation to each organisation in order to avoid disturbing its
operation and the relations between professionals and users. However, this adaptation to the service should not
result in any deviation from the methodological and ethical imperatives according to which any user may be
invited to take part in an interview and each persons freedom to respond is maintained. Finally, the
confidentiality of information collected, in particular in relation to the organisation in which the interview
takes place, remains an essential component.
The staff members impulses to intervene in selecting those to be interviewed, in particular during the
Coquelicot surveys on drug users, was one of the problems that quite often confronted interviewers. The staff
members concerned must sometimes be reminded of the methodological imperatives when they are protective
of users faced with an approach perceived to be intrusive or potentially destabilising or, on the other hand,
where they wish to help the interviewer by indicating interesting people. While reference to responsibility
and each persons freedom of choice can be a convincing argument, the necessity of a selection that will
ensure that the survey is representative also provides a methodological argument that can prevent this type of
interference. In general, interviewers must be accessible while keeping the necessary distance to ensure
freedom of participation and free speech for all. A user must not feel obliged to reply in order to satisfy the
staff at the service, on whom his accommodation or health care may depend, for example. This approach
differs from that taken in other surveys where questionnaires are administered by staff at the services, which is
the case with most of the quantitative surveys on drug users.
Which services for which population?
The surveys carried out in France from 1995 to 2001 cover restaurant services (meals), shelters and the
apartments or hotel rooms paid for by an association (by nights stayed). Thus, they targeted homeless persons
living in the streets or in squats, persons staying with friends or family, and persons with their own housing
who use the restaurant services. On the other hand, in the survey carried out by the INSEE in 2001, homeless
persons in cities with fewer than 20,000 inhabitants were estimated but not interviewed and users of the
services who were non-fluent French speakers (i.e. 14% of those contacted) were recorded but not
interviewed. Finally, persons who did not use the aid services covered by the survey were effectively
excluded.
Following the national survey in 2001 (Brousse et al. 2002a) and the inquiry by the INSEE and the
Observatoire National de la pauvret et de l'exclusion sociale (ONPES [National Monitoring Centre for

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Poverty and Social Exclusion]), two complementary and exploratory operations were conducted by the INED
(Marpsat, Quaglia, Razafindratsima, 2002; Marpsat and Quaglia, 2002). The first, which was carried out
among users who were non-fluent French speakers, was conducted with the cooperation of interpreters who
had also received basic interview training. The second was carried out with the help of outreach services to the
most deprived (mobile and cruising teams) who go out to meet people sleeping in the streets or in places unfit
for habitation and who visit the services, which up to then had only been studied in the INED and INSEE
surveys either rarely or not at all.

Taking account of mobile services: an example of the input from qualitative methods
The work done by the INED was enriched from 1993 onwards by the choices made by researchers from a
quantitative tradition (since they were statisticians and demographers) to include qualitative research methods
in their work. From 1993 onwards, meeting the managers of the associations and observing how the services
operated5 came to be viewed as essential stages in methodological research6.
Studying persons met through the mobile services called for a qualitative approach since these encounters
occurred in public spaces, i.e. a context that had to date been hardly explored in quantitative surveys of the
socio-demographic type. Very quickly, the first interviews with managers of the associations confirmed that
nothing could be decided without following the teams to get a better sense of and anticipate the effects of the
operation of the associations on the data collection method.
This was an opportunity to develop, test and adapt the methodology to the very specific realities of these
services and to envisage including them in further surveys. This experiment was extended in particular in the
Coquelicot surveys carried out on drug users in 2002 and 2004 with the Institut de Veille Sanitaire [Health
Monitoring Institute]: the mobile services such as street teams and buses travelling around to meet users were
included in the sampling frame, supplementing the stationary accommodation, health care, needle exchange
and reception services.
Enumerating the persons concerned by the survey and taking account of selection biases
As in the case of surveys on service users, the enumeration of persons encountered by the mobile teams is
indispensable in calculating the weightings. Monitoring and observation of these teams made it possible to
envisage various possible ways of carrying out a count. Here are some examples of questions that were raised
in the course of these observations:
- while in the case of the previous surveys, enumeration was undertaken on the basis of services used
by the persons (overnight, meals), here it was based on the number of encounters, which became the services
to be enumerated. How can these services, which are less defined than a meal or an overnight stay be
enumerated?
- counting the persons simply seen by the team, those encountered, or those contacted?
- all the teams fill out a street log in which they write down some observations about the persons they
encounter. But certain teams only note the persons with whom they have been in contact. Can enumeration be
undertaken on the basis of street logs? What should be done as regards the people who are known to the team
but are sleeping at the time and whom there is no question of waking up?
- if our frame is all people who are likely to form part of the surveys field, those who, although
present were not contacted by the team should also be included.

In addition to 13 interviews with housing services and hospitals emergency services and services for those in
precarious circumstances, 14 interviews were held with managers of the associations and 11 observations of mobile
(cruising) teams in Paris.
6
On this topic, see also Charles Souli in Marpsat and Firdion, 2000, chapter 7, on the description of the accommodation
network.

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- these observations revealed that, by virtue of their knowledge of places and persons, teams will
choose the persons they contact. Certain managers spoke to us of social sifting, certain services will not
approach drug users, while others contact only the most damaged or those they consider to be in danger,
others will go first to those they know, then depending on how much time they have left before the end of
their shift they go back to look for other places, other people. How can those who are not approached and
selected by the team be taken into account?
- how will the interviewers be able to determine which persons are or are not addressed by the survey
in public places without contacting people?
- is it possible to ask the teams to count people while the interviewer is conducting an interview? If a
team has to split up (in the underground, for example), should two interviewers be sent? And will the teams
accept the two interviewers?
- some services (like the Samu sociaux [emergency outreach centres]) only cruise around after
receiving calls from persons. How should the selection of persons be managed in the course of monitoring
these teams? The people who contacted the service in order to be transported to a centre are not eligible since
they are using accommodation services (and thus are not sleeping rough as defined in this survey) and the
point was to calculate the percentage of rough sleepers who do and do not use the restaurant services. How is
it possible to take account of those who are not users but were identified by a call to SAMU and who refuse to
participate?

Selection instructions and a monitoring file for each outing


The selection procedures, the number of interviewers allocated to each service and the instructions had to be
adapted according to the type and scale of the service and the type of place studied. Following the teams
around also confirmed the answers obtained from telephone interviews: the number of persons encountered
may vary. For certain teams, this depended on the time of day, the day of the week and also weather
conditions, the days events, etc.
In order to gain a better understanding of the diversity of cases, additional information on how the expedition
went had to be recorded by the interviewers in a monitoring file for each outing. These files contained:

an estimate by the mobile team of the number of persons encountered;


an estimate of the number of individuals encountered;
an estimate of the number of people who followed the team, since some teams are instructed to lead
anyone who wishes to go to the shelters;
the type of place;
the stop number;
the number of persons present in the vicinity;
the number of persons contacted by the mobile team;
the number of persons interviewed;
the refusal and certain demographic characteristics of persons encountered;
the interviewers observations

Finally, monitoring the teams showed that although all of the persons the teams encountered were capable of
replying to the questionnaire, some of them (designated by the selection) could not be interviewed because the
interview conditions were too precarious or because the interviewer had to follow the team and the rhythm of
the expedition or because certain people found it impossible to reply to the entire questionnaire. A simplified
procedure was therefore provided for responding to different situations.

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Voluntary and experienced interviewers
The interviewers faced not only the task of managing relations with the services but the question of adapting
to the specific characteristics of the places where the interviews are held, which for these studies of persons
encountered by the mobile services are often precarious: streets, buses, underground platforms. Moreover, the
vagaries of the weather may lead to a drop in the level of visits to the services or to an outreach team having to
cancel an expedition. Similarly, police intervention, eviction from a squat etc. may upset a routine or
invalidate the outreach teams work and consequently that of the interviewers. Finally, a certain number of
interviews take place in the evenings or even at night. For all these reasons, the interviewers, recruited on a
voluntary basis, must be very experienced and also very interested in this type of field. Moreover, they are
trained and closely monitored through regular contact with the data collection manager, which allows them to
approach and manage particularly difficult questions (on difficult life histories, illegal practices, etc.) and
interview conditions.
Conclusion
We have presented some examples of surveys in which the TLS sampling method was applied in a context or
space in which individuals were met, which in some cases was in public and in all cases dependent on the
associations in charge of the space. Whether they relate to users of services or persons met by the services, the
quality of these surveys will be in line with the methods principle, in other words going through the
associations in order to meet future interviewees. Thus, the precision of the data will depend on how the
managers of the services perceive the survey and therefore there are limits from the very first stages of
constructing a sampling frame. Finally, since each service addresses a particular type within the population
studied, it is important to keep refusals by the services to participate in the survey to a minimum. Ensuring the
cooperation of the professionals in the field and that the managers of the associations fully understand the
surveys objectives is essential for ensuring that this type of study is carried out properly.
On the other hand, the retrospective section of the questionnaire (relating to the various services visited over
the previous days) is an essential point in this method and the calculation of weightings. The quality of the
replies depends entirely on the capacity of persons to remember their schedule during the week preceding the
survey and the possibility of unambiguously identifying each service visited (according to criteria similar if
not identical to those used in the questionnaire: name and type of service).
Finally, while this method, applied to users of accommodation and restaurant services has proved its worth in
a national survey, a survey of people encountered by the mobile (outreach) teams is difficult to carry out on a
large scale. Following the mobile services revealed that people who refuse to go to shelters often agree to go
to an organisation offering breakfasts in the morning. The INSEEs and INEDs methodological survey on the
rough sleepers conducted in Toulouse in January/February 2009 covered day centres and other services
offering breakfasts. The results of this study should give us an idea of whether or not it is worthwhile to carry
out interviews in these services in order to cover the population of interest to these surveys more effectively.

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List of TLS surveys on populations of homeless persons and drug users


Organisation and authors of
Year
Target population
Geographical scope
the survey
INED - M. Marpsat and J.M.
1995 Users of accommodation and
Paris city centre
Firdion,
restaurant services
lan Retrouv/INED - V.
1996 Users of accommodation and
Paris city centre
Kovess and C. Mangin-Lazarus
restaurant services
INED - M. Marpsat and J.M.
1998 Young people between 16 - 25 years
Paris and Petite Couronne
Firdion
who use assistance services for
(the 3 dpartements
homeless persons
bordering the city)
INSEE - survey SD2001- C. 2001 Users of accommodation and
National
Brousse, E. Mass, B. Guiot de
restaurant services
la Rochre
INED M. Marpsat and Martine
2002 Non-fluent French speakers who use
Paris, Strasbourg, Marseilles
Quaglia
assistance services for homeless
persons
INED survey SI2002 -M.
2002 People encountered by the mobile
Paris, Nantes, Nice
Marpsat
services.
Coquelicot feasibility survey 2002 Users of assistance services for
Marseilles
InVS/INED - J. Emmanuelli,
intravenous drug users
M. Jauffret-Roustide
Coquelicot - InVS/INED - J.
2004 Users of assistance services for
Paris, Marseilles,
Emmanuelli, M. Jauffretintravenous drug users
Strasbourg, Lille, Bordeaux
Roustide

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