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.