Upholding Burke’s Legacy of High Quality Data Collection

by Elissa Wood

Burke’s heritage is rooted in the highest standards for quality and service – this was Alberta Burke’s vision for the company she founded in 1931. Over the last 90 years, we’ve watched the research industry evolve to meet the changing needs of clients, and we’ve been there as the data collection techniques and research methodologies have changed in tow. Too often, the adoption of new techniques and data collection procedures within the industry come at the expense of sample quality and data integrity. At Burke, we hold sample and data quality in the highest regard, and as methodologies have evolved throughout history, our core principles remain the same. As Don Miller, Alberta’s predecessor and Burke’s second president remarked in 1965, “The most important thing that distinguishes Burke from other competitors is the quality of our field work.”

Looking back, quality was at the forefront when face-to-face and telephone methods were the primary data collection options. Critical to quality output was having well-trained, experienced interviewers going door-to-door or conducting telephone calls to find the right person and connect with that person on an individual level.  As data collection became feasible to implement online, we were confronted with many new challenges that impacted quality – including interoperability considerations, inconsistent connection speeds, low-cost but low-quality incentive models, online sample sourcing limitations, and respondent validation limitations.

“The most important thing that distinguishes Burke from other competitors is the quality of our field work.”

As with any challenge, an opportunity presented itself.  And like good researchers, we turned to data.  We needed data to help us make good decisions regarding validation of both respondents and survey data.  Through methodological shifts, Burke conducted numerous parallel studies to examine the impact on representation of the target population, and to determine whether changes in methods affected the nature of the research results themselves. We also explored the effect of data collection mode on respondents’ survey experience. Results of these comparative tests continue to inform how we adapt to changes within the industry, ensuring we obtain the highest level of data quality that is commercially available for our clients.

Our commitment to premium data quality solutions can be seen in our R&D efforts of the early 2000s. During the onset of the online data collection boom, Burke conducted comprehensive R&D work to evaluate online sample sources in order to identify disparities in online sources, detect biases, and pinpoint weaknesses in respondent and data quality. This research substantiated and quantified the existence of undesirable groups in the data and illuminated the need for enhanced sampling control and management. This work helped Burke and others in the industry focus on online data quality and guard against respondent disengagement during surveys. In our quest to obtain the true voice of the consumer, we pioneered real-time survey tools still used to this day, and variations of these tools and techniques are now commonplace in the industry.

Today, we continue to find ways to adapt our legacy approach to the fast paced, ever-changing environment.  The key to our success is having dedicated sampling experts maintain control and actively manage every stage of the data collection process. We continue our ‘hands on’ approach to sampling despite an industry trend towards passive collection driven by simplified aggregation technologies. Through continuous and rigorous testing and R&D, Burke understands and adapts to the nuances of the modern sample landscape and its impact on respondent authenticity and data quality.

Alberta Burke’s legacy is a gift – one that Burke’s employees cherish and strive to uphold.

The future of the sampling and data collection industry is unknown, but one thing we are sure of is that Burke will approach the next stage with our same core quality principles intact. Methods will change over time, but our focus on quality remains paramount.

As the Director of Sample Operations, Elissa Wood’s primary role is managing Burke’s dedicated department of sampling experts. She also oversees the development of sample best practices and quality standards that are implemented on all quantitative projects.

Interested in reading more? Here’s more from the 90th edition:

Building A Thriving, Sustainable Company Culture

The Value of Education in Research

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