CAVI: A Cost-Effective, Efficient Data Collection Tool

June 28, 2022

Westat staff were proud to be able to present one of the Innovation Spotlights at the recent 77th Annual Conference of the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). Westat’s Senior Study Directors Cindy Good, M.A., and Lena Centeno, M.A., showcased our groundbreaking work on adapting computer-assisted video interviewing (CAVI) to replace in-person data collection during the pandemic.

Cindy Good

“We were excited to introduce CAVI to conferees because it has so many advantages, especially its ability to mimic the in-person experience,” says Ms. Good. “With CAVI, interviewers can read respondents’ facial expressions and other body cues; see if they understand the questions, if they get fatigued or distracted, and if they are in a private enough place to speak freely. Plus, CAVI enables eye contact so the interviewer can develop a rapport with the respondent.”

CAVI was instrumental in meeting the need to creatively solve the challenges that the COVID lockdowns presented and keep our multiyear complex studies moving forward. One study that has particularly benefited from this innovation is the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS)–Household Component (HC)—the most complete source of data on the use and cost of medical services by U.S. residents. MEPS is especially dependent on in-person interviews, relying on show cards to help respondents answer questions and enabling interviewers to see respondents’ medical records.

“Each year, we field a new panel of approximately 10,000 households that participate in a series of 5 interviews over a 2 1/2-year period. Plus, we must field overlapping panels occurring at the same time,” explains Ms. Centeno. “If we conduct these interviews by phone, interviewers must guide respondents to a secure website to access the show cards, which can burden respondents and slow the interview process.” Adding any kind of burden to the process can reduce response rates.

Lena Centeno

CAVI is a beneficial method on many fronts: for respondents and for survey administration and monitoring, all of which, ultimately, benefit the client with high-quality data and an efficient data collection effort. Respondents prefer CAVI because of convenience, and it easily enables COVID-19 safety protocols along with a “virtual” in-person experience. This convenience factor also impacts in a positive way on the data collection effort, too: Online interviewing removes the time and expense of building in travel time to conduct interviews by field staff, plus interviewing time is saved because interviewers just need to “show” the show cards and do not need to read them aloud as is necessary for telephone interviews.

CAVI will remain a viable cost-effective option for rapid accurate data collection; both researchers agree that CAVI is here to stay. “It’s cost-effective, is expected to help increase response rates, and has the potential to improve data quality over telephone interviewing,” says Ms. Good, “and it helps us meet our client’s needs.”


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