Papi: old but not obsolete

By Heidi Dietzsch

You might think that paper and pencil have gone the way of the dinosaur when it comes to market research. But the oldest quantitative data collection method is still useful in the right circumstances. While Intellidex specialises in digital data collection, sometimes it pays to go old fashioned.

Prior to the 1980s, almost all market research data collection was done via paper-and-pencil interviewing (PAPI), or face-to-face interviewing. An interviewer reads questions from a paper-based questionnaire and fills the respondent’s answers into the questionnaire.

PAPI questionnaires can incorporate multiple choice questions, rating scale questions and verbatim questions. There are distinct advantages. Interviews can be conducted in the respondent’s home or workplace, in halls, shopping centres or even on the street. When a face-to-face interview is conducted, emotions, behaviours, facial expressions, body language and tone of voice can be observed.A skilled interviewer will note these down as additional data that adds value.

When needed, for instance where the questions are open-ended, interviewers can expertly probe respondents to give more comprehensive answers. It will, of course, be more convenient for respondents to provide long answers orally than in writing. PAPI allows for more accurate screening which means that respondents cannot provide false information pertaining to race, age and gender.

But there are also clear downsides. Things become tricky when certain questions or sections of the questionnaire need to be skipped and interviewers need to page back and forth through long and cumbersome paper questionnaires. It is then very easy for routing errors to occur – by answering a question that is supposed to be skipped, or by skipping a question that is supposed to be answered. Also, interviewers have to lug around large piles of papers which, of course, means that data can easily get lost without any electronic back-up.

Interviewers who conduct PAPI interviews need to be highly skilled with the ability to build rapport with respondents. They need to ensure that a good quality job is completed by the deadline. PAPI is often used to reach target groups in remote areas and interviewers will need to be able to access these respondents. Sometimes respondents are illiterate, or the research topics are of a sensitive nature – in these cases interviewers will need to be able to handle the situation with the necessary empathy. Unfortunately, data integrity might sometimes be compromised if different language skills affect how well the interviewer and respondent understand one another.

Also, PAPI interviewers often have to singly endure unpleasant and even potentially dangerous situations and also approach strangers. Personal skills are important because respondents cannot be influenced in any way and interviews need to be objective.</span></span>

The PAPI process can be long, arduous and costly. Paper-based questionnaires have to be printed. After fieldwork, questionnaires need to be checked for interviewer mistakes and thereafter be captured by trained data capturers. This is also an expensive venture. After the data have been captured, it has to be cleaned and only then can it become available. This entire process may take a couple of months.

It is clear that PAPI has some weaknesses, but it can also be beneficial, especially when conducted by skilled and proficient interviewers. Intellidex complements digital collection methods with PAPI for the right projects, particularly when respondents are senior business people with little time to engage with digital methods and open-ended responses are needed.