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Agility and the Survey Life-Cycle - If and what survey practitioners can learn from software development 1
| Dr Yuri Pettinicchi (SHARE Berlin Institute)
Dr Arne Bethmann (TU Munich / SHARE Germany)
|Tuesday 18 July, 11:00 - 12:30
The increasing digitaliation of the survey process has led to many of the tasks surrounding the survey life-cycle resembling software development tasks more and more closely, e.g. programming questionnaires, data processing, automatic preparation of documentation. While survey practitoners and engineers are still often recruited from the social sciences rather than computer science, interest in learning from best practices in software development has increased in recent years. This includes adapting tools e.g. for bug tracking/ticketing or version control of documents and (meta)data, but also management processes like Agile Development.
This session invites anyone in the process of or already having implemented ideas from software development in survey practice to contribute and discuss their experiences. Some of the questions to pose could be, e.g.: Which ideas seem(ed) suitable? Did it work? What were the benefits or drawbacks? How did it need to be adapted in order to deal with the specific requirements of survey development? What tools did you use and why? Does an Agile workflow fit into the survey process traditionally rather organized in a waterfall model? Where are the software and the survey development life-cycle comparable? Where do they differ? How does that relate to the specifics of the survey at hand?
Dr Marika de Bruijne (Centerdata)
Dr Yuri Pettinicchi (SHARE Berlin Institute) - Presenting Author
Dr Karin Schuller (SHARE Berlin Institute)
Although Agile has its origins in the software industry, these principles have now spread to other fields including survey projects. This paper describes the implementation of Agile project management practices in SHARE. SHARE is the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe. It is a research infrastructure for studying the effects of health, social, economic and environmental policies over the life-course of European citizens and beyond.
For projects like SHARE, where there is considerable dynamicity in project requirements resulting in a high rate of change and project complexity, Agile practices add value. Agile practices refer to an iterative approach where the team delivers smaller increments to add value at faster intervals and where requirements and results are evaluated continuously, enabling to respond to changes quickly.
In SHARE, we have implemented Scrum, one of the Agile frameworks, in requirement analysis, conceptual development and software product management of the SHARE survey and tooling. The collaboration between SHARE Central and the development team at Centerdata has been restructured according to the Scrum framework. As a result, the technical aspects and part of the conceptual aspects of a typical development cycle of the SHARE survey is organized into Product Teams and Scrum Teams working together in Sprint cycles. This structure enables the iterative exploration of requirements and incremental implementation. Such a strategy mitigates the risk of rework and realignment. In this paper, we reflect on the application of the Scrum framework in the SHARE processes. We provide learnings on how the Agile approach can help survey researchers to improve survey development and management.
Miss Ebony Armstrong (Office for National Statistics)
Mr Daniel Thomas (Office for National Statistics) - Presenting Author
Software developers face an unending race in their development; rapidly shifting technological landscapes mean users’ expectations and needs from services are constantly evolving. A product envisioned at the outset may no longer meet user needs once finally complete. As such, it’s imperative for developers to be reactive and adaptive. Thus, Agile development was created to ensure development is iterative and end-products are effective.
These same principles apply to survey development. How can one claim that respondent needs in the current age – with demand increasing for online self-completion surveys – are the same as they were previously? Reliance on status-quo waterfall development risks producing burdensome surveys that overlook respondent needs, resulting in falling response rates. The cyclical nature of Agile allows one to test early and ‘fail fast’, to ensure end-products meet respondent needs.
In 2016, ONS’ Research & Design team undertook an Agile approach to transforming the UK’s nationwide Labour Force Survey, to the online push-to-web Labour Market Survey. From this experience, Wilson and Dickinson (2022) created the Respondent Centred Design (RCD) Framework (RCDF). They developed an approach to survey development that amalgamated User Centred Design, social research best practice, and Agile delivery. An RCD approach ensures:
• Respondent needs are identified and addressed.
• Survey design is informed by insights – not assumptions.
• Design is reactive and iterative.
RCD aims to refocus investment to the beginning of the data lifecycle, to the design phase, by prioritising the respondent and enhancing their end-to-end experience. The speakers have produced applicable guidance regarding these methods for all to use who work in survey development. During their presentation, they will outline the benefits of adopting RCD and an Agile approach within survey development, in addition to outlining how it should be adopted with specific reference to research methods.
Ms Andrea Schulze (DZHW) - Presenting Author
Mr Christian Friedrich (DZHW)
Preparing and conducting web surveys is usually structured in a waterfall model of project management since there are strongly linear, interdependent and well-known stages within the project life cycle: creating the contents of the survey (planning), estimating and preparing programming requirements (designing), programming the survey (implementing), testing and bug fixing (testing) and finally going online (delivery). In contrast to this, requirements of complex software development projects are not entirely transparent and possible solutions to meet them are also considered largely unknown in the beginning. Such projects are successfully managed in a Scrum process.
The Online Research Service is an interdisciplinary team within the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW) that maintains and hosts the web survey system zofar. We offer our services to social science research projects while also developing and enhancing features of zofar itself. In this position we need to tackle the challenges of balancing both support and service for web survey projects and software development. This means conciliating more rigid timelines and milestones of traditional project management with the iterative process and incremental progress of agile development.
In our talk we will describe our experiences with both management styles and their intersections. We will take a closer look at conflicts that may arise, present techniques and tools of software development that can complement and improve collaborative practices of social scientists and discuss their requirements and restrictions.
Mrs Inna Becher (LINK) - Presenting Author
After four years of a large-scale multi-client collaborative project, we would like to present and discuss our key learnings regarding project management and the use of various software and in a survey life cycle.
Since 2019, we developed a collaborative multi-client survey project with the aim of creating a recognized industry solution for the real estate market. Commercial and residential tenants are surveyed in order to evaluate and improve their satisfaction. The data is made available for the property owners and for property management companies in an interactive dashboard. Each user can only view and work with their own data but can also view the entire benchmark based on all the underlying data set. For open-ended questions, an IT solution is made for creating, updating and tracking of concrete measures for reported problems. In total, the residential tenant dashboard now includes data from over 35’000 interviews, which spans over 9 different clients and over 30 different property management companies.
We will demonstrate, what kind of processes (organizing folder structures), software solutions for data collection and visualization (survey programming software, customized dashboard solutions with interactive tracking tools), ticketing systems for tracking of tasks within the dashboard as well as to process customer concerns in the support system, data analysis software (Jupiter notebook, R, SEM software) or secure data transfer solutions for custom data are used in our collaborative project and what are the main gains and pains.