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Upper Catchment Issues Vol 4 No 2 - Methodology

Author: Tasmanian Community Resource Auditors Incorporated


Criteria for Selection of Approach

As the aim of the inquiry was to obtain a snapshot of public opinion regarding environmental issues in the Northeast, a survey approach (Gill and Johnson 1991; Creative Research Systems 2003/04; Guy and Rogers 1999; Ranovich and Howell (n.d.)) was considered appropriate in order to reach the widest possible audience. The approach is best described as exploratory research and involved mail-out surveys to all households in the Dorset and Break O'Day municipalities (see Figure 1 for location of municipalities).

In order to gather more detailed information DWW elected to conduct face to face interviews (Street Corner Interviews) with members of the public at the two main centers, Scottsdale and Bridport. Interviews were conducted at a number of locations on different days and at different times in order to maximize the probability of sampling the demographic as completely as possible.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Survey Approaches

The strength of the mail-out survey lies in its ability to reach large numbers of people in a short time, with minimal outlay of resources. The structure of these survey types also allows for relatively easy analysis. However, a significant drawback of mail-out surveys is the narrow range of question/answer options due to space considerations, i.e. the design tends to reply on "strength of feeling scoring" or "tick a box" answers. A further drawback of this approach is the relatively low return rate.

On the other hand face to face surveys have a high return rate and offer increased opportunity for in-depth exploration of questions. The approach also offers increased opportunity to directly access citizens who may not have responded to mail-out type surveys for a variety of reasons. That said, face to face surveys are costly (in terms of time and resource) to conduct. Another down side of this method of inquiry relates to the possibility of bias on the part of the interviewer. As discussed below, steps were taken to reduce bias and the other threats to validity. In any case, we felt that a blend of the two methods would offer the best opportunity to gain an accurate picture of community perceptions.


1. Design of questionnaires. The two questionnaires were designed in accordance with the guidelines described by Gill and Johnson (1991) and Ranovich and Howell (n.d.). Questionnaire design took place over several weeks, with members of the research team meeting to discuss layout and format. A research survey was conducted of the existing literature relating to community views and perceptions in the Northeast. At the same time archival material from local media (North-Eastern Advertiser) was also surveyed to assess public views on a range of issues. A number of key issues were identified including water quality and quantity, resource management and the role of community in decision-making. Specific questions were then formulated. The questionnaires were then pre-tested on a number of informants in order to refine the approach.

Mail-out Questionnaire. Appendix 1 shows the final questionnaire. This questionnaire presented 5 questions relating to key issues, roles and responsibilities and participation in decision-making. Respondents were asked to rate key issues and then go on to identify responsibilities and representation. A total of 3227 mail-outs were sent to all residences in Dorset and 2200 in Break O' Day.

To assist with returns of the mail out survey several drop centres around the municipality were provided, including a mailing address.

Street Corner Interviews. Appendix 2 shows the final questionnaire. Data relating to location, time of interview, age, sex and residency of informants were collected. The actual questions were more open-ended compared to the mail-out questionnaire. This was felt necessary as we saw the need to triangulate (Gill and Johnson 1991) the data arising from the mail-out. The fact that the face to face sampling strategy involved interviews in different locations at different times (of the week and times of day) also contributed to the reliability and validity of the data. A total of 140 respondents were surveyed.

2. Training of data gathers and design quality control strategies. Members of Dorset Waterwatch and Friends of Blue Tier were taken through a one day workshop, dealing with the basics of survey research and methods of interviewing, including ways to reduce bias. The workshop involved working through practical examples. Appendix 3 shows the training notes for the workshop.