7th Biennial ACSPRI Social Science Methodology Conference

Jennifer Renda

Jennifer Renda has almost ten years of experience in working on longitudinal studies at the Australian Institute of Family Studies. She is currently the manager of survey methodology for Ten to Men: The Australian Longitudinal Study on Male Health and has also previously held this role for Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. While most of her time is spent on managing the development and administration of instruments for longitudinal studies, she has been involved in developing methodological papers and has also previously published on several topics related to work and family, bullying, and separated families.

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Bringing life back into a longitudinal sample: addressing issues with contact and engagement

The primary purpose of Ten to Men: The Australian Longitudinal Study on Male Health is to build an evidence base to inform the National Male Health Policy and help improve the health and wellbeing of Australian men and boys. Funded by the Department of Health, Ten to Men began in 2013 with a sample of around 16,000 men aged from 10 to 55, and is currently in its third wave of data collection. Changes in the management of the study in 2018 resulted in a five-year gap between Waves 2 and 3. During this gap, there was a substantial pause in contact with the sample, leading to outdated contact information and reduced attachment to the study. This paper will discuss the work undertaken to address these challenges and the strategies implemented for locating and re-engaging participants for Wave 3 of Ten to Men.

To remedy the lack of reliable contact information, a range of options were considered for obtaining updated information from participants and tracking those who could not be contacted, including an incentivised panel maintenance activity, scoping of tracking options, and promotion of the study. The first activity conducted was a strategically incentivised panel maintenance activity, where participants were asked to review and update or confirm their contact information. While the response rate for this activity was high in comparison to similar activities conducted in previous waves or other studies, at the conclusion of this activity a substantial proportion of participants without updated contact information remained. Extensive effort was then given to identifying effective methods for tracking these participants, though privacy constraints proved challenging. Consultations were also held on innovative ways to help promote the study and bring the third wave to the attention of hard-to-reach participants.

Another challenge was the lack of recent participant engagement in the study, with some respondents having forgotten about their previous participation or assuming the study had ended. Several activities were undertaken to address this, including the re-branding of the study. The re-brand sought to balance maintaining a connection with the original form and look of the study with providing a refreshed, engaging look for the study going forward. The new study branding was applied to all participant documentation, which, with input from focus groups, was carefully designed to be visually appealing and promote the importance of ongoing participation in the study. Care also went into selecting participant incentives that would appeal to a broad range of participants and maximise response, while aligning with the values of a men’s health study.

This paper will discuss the strategies used, as well as outcomes and reflections. Early findings from the Main Wave data collection will be presented.

Staying Longitudinal in lockdown: How two large-scale, national panel studies are responding to COVID-19

The restrictions introduced by the Australian Government to manage the spread of COVID-19 significantly affected the face to face methodology of two nationally significant longitudinal surveys. Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) was designed to collect a broad range of information on Australian children’s development. Since 2004, two cohorts of 5,000 children and their families have been interviewed every two years. Ten to Men: The Australian Longitudinal Study on Male Health was designed to provide research data to inform the National Male Health Policy and help improve the health and wellbeing of Australian men and boys. Ten to Men began in 2013 with a sample of about 16,000 males aged 10-55 years and completed a second wave of data collection in 2015. Wave 9 of LSAC had commenced when the restrictions were introduced, with Wave 3 Ten to Men fieldwork due to commence in May 2020. The data collection methodology relied heavily on face-to-face methods for both studies, which could no longer be pursued due to the restrictions and concerns about protecting the wellbeing of participants and interviewers. It was essential to review the data collection for both studies, taking into account the implications of postponing or cancelling a wave; the impact of changing data collection modes; the importance of maintaining contact with participants; and the value of gathering data about experiences of a pandemic in a longitudinal study.

Both LSAC and Ten to Men were redesigned to allow data collection in 2020. A range of options was considered with a view to maximising response rates, obtaining quality data, and ensuring feasibility during the restrictions. International longitudinal studies were also consulted about how they adapted to COVID-19. A new “Wave 9COVID” was developed for LSAC. The study transitioned from 90-minute home visit for most participants to a 30-minute online survey. Two waves of Wave 9COVID would be administered in October 2020 and April 2021. While the primary data collection mode for Ten to Men was an online survey, the study had planned to implement a home visit. With five years since the last wave of data collection, this home visit was essential to confirm sample details and collect data from respondents, and alternative non-contact follow-up approaches were adopted. The key challenges arising from the change in data collection methodology for the studies included reducing survey content while considering longitudinal consistency; managing the effects of modal change; updating content to capture the effects of restrictions and COVID-19; and finding the best measures to use in national studies while accommodating the various restrictions across states and postcodes.

Ten to Men fieldwork is scheduled from late July 2020 to early December, and LSAC fieldwork is scheduled from early October 2020 to early December. This paper summarises the challenges that COVID-19 presented to both studies and outlines the steps taken to address them. It also summarises approaches taken by other longitudinal studies in adapting to COVID-19. Finally, it discusses outcomes of the adapted Ten to Men fieldwork.