8.1. Use of incentives and reminders to improve response rates

As mentioned above, reminders are an important means of improving response rates in self-administered surveys. A personal reminder is likely to be more effective than a more general public one. Providing an incentive to participate in the survey to those already selected to participate can also encourage return of a questionnaire and hence may have some beneficial effect on response rates.

In telephone surveys call-backs are easy to arrange. Sending repeat emails is also straightforward. In an online web-based survey, as in self-selected survey samples generally, it is the more motivated who will respond to a general call for participation and these may well coincide with those who have more extreme opinions or experiences to report. Therefore reminders are important to try to overcome the bias which this creates, by involving some of those who are less inclined to participate but who may be more representative of the population as a whole. Box 9 gives an example.

Box 9. The Scottish surveys: use of reminders and incentives.

In the 2008 survey in Scotland, a short public reminder was published in “The Scottish Beekeeper”, but the final response rate was only 42%. In that survey no personal reminder was possible as anonymity was built into the survey and questionnaire numbering was not used. Numbering of the questionnaires allows identification of the selected survey participants who have not responded. In recent Scottish surveys the numbers of questionnaires returned by the deadline were removed from the list of numbers of all the questionnaires sent out, the remaining numbers matched to the reference number of the person concerned and this list of numbers sorted into order and sent to the membership convenor for identification of the people in order for him to send a short reminder letter. The first time this was done, in 2010, the response rate was considerably improved, to 69%, although in 2011 it had little effect (response improved from 45% to 49%) and there was barely any effect in 2012. Nonetheless reminders are recommended.

In the last few annual surveys of beekeepers, a well-known commercial supplier of beekeeping equipment has willingly provided a generous voucher to be awarded to the winner of a prize draw at the end of the deadline specified for return of the questionnaire. The winner was randomly selected from the list of questionnaire numbers returned by that deadline. The winning number was matched to the identifying short reference number for that participant, and the details were sent to the SBA membership convenor. The convenor identified and contacted the winner, and contacted the commercial company to arrange for the sending of the prize to the winner. The winner was asked what details they would be willing to have published in the SBA’s monthly publication for members, for example, information such as “The winner of the £50 voucher kindly offered by Company A as a prize to the successful participant in the SBA 2010 survey lives in Argyll”), hence giving some publicity to Company A.