Darby Steiger on the Challenges and Rewards of Running AAPOR 2022

Darby Steiger

For the first time since the pandemic halted in-person gatherings, the annual American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) Conference will welcome 1,000+ researchers to Chicago, Illinois, May 11-13, 2022. Conference Chair Darby Steiger, M.A., M.P.P., a Westat Senior Survey Methodologist, speaks enthusiastically about her vision for the event and the importance of this and future AAPOR conferences.

Q: You coined the theme of this conference—Coming Together: Advancing Inclusion and Equity Through Data Collection, Measurement, and Community. What prompted this theme?

A: I wanted to define the conference as a time when we can finally gather in person to advance our field, and I wanted to encourage us to self-reflect as a community about the work we do through the lens of inclusion and equity. I firmly believe that we need to attract more minorities to our field, improve our measurements of historically underserved populations, engage communities in the research we collect, and examine how we can better disseminate data back to these communities.

Q: Will the opening plenary session set the stage for the conference?

A: Yes. The session titled “Disrupting Public Opinion Research in Pursuit of Equity” will frame the conference. Moderated by Robert Santos, the new Director of the U.S. Census Bureau, it will showcase leaders who are using innovative approaches to change the way we measure and share research with historically underserved communities.

Q: Why is this 77th AAPOR Conference particularly important?

A: It’s our first in-person conference since 2019 and will provide our members an important opportunity to come back together to advance our understanding of methodology, the public’s opinions on today’s issues, and our science.

Q: The conference program includes time for AAPOR attendees to give back to the community. What is that about?

A: I am launching a new program this year to give back to the community that is hosting us. We will have 30 attendees volunteering at a Chicago food bank the morning after the conference, and we are encouraging all attendees to make donations to the food bank. I hope this program will continue in the future.

Q: What challenges have you faced in shaping this conference?

A: We had to assess the public health situation and determine if we could convene in person, and we had to make that decision by November 2021, before abstracts were due. We asked abstract submitters if they would be willing to attend the conference in person, and more than 90% of them said they would. Not only were they excited to attend, but so were sponsors and exhibitors. To step up to this demand and create a safe space for all, we’re following rigorous public health measures. We’ve also raised more money in sponsorships than ever before in AAPOR’s history. And Westat, as a Sustaining Sponsor, has been very generous and supportive not only of this conference but also of me in this role. I am very grateful for the time and resources Westat has given me to succeed as Conference Chair.

Q: How do you see survey research evolving over the next years?

A: I believe we will see more video interviewing over platforms like Zoom. This gives people a new way to fit surveys into their busy lives. In 2022, Westat is rolling out this methodology for the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which is very exciting. We live in difficult times due to COVID, but it is motivating us to creatively adapt to accommodate the challenges it presents. Your question is very relevant because survey research is always evolving, and we, as researchers, need to be open and curious about new ways to gather data that reflects the populations we are studying. The professional network that AAPOR provides is instrumental in supporting this activity.

It’s our first in-person conference since 2019 and will provide our members an important opportunity to come back together to advance our understanding of methodology, the public’s opinions on today’s issues, and our science.

- AAPOR Conference Chair Darby Steiger, M.A., M.P.P., Senior Survey Methodologist, Statistics & Data Science

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