The first weekend in August, my family hosted the bi-annual reunion for my late maternal grandmother’s family. She was one of 14 siblings and many of them stayed close to the small Wisconsin town where they grew up. As I’m sure you can imagine, a small-town family reunion for a family of that size can get a little out of control. (You don’t even want to know how many pounds of cased meats we ordered.) And as time goes on, each individual family also grows; my grandma’s oldest son is a great-grandfather himself! Additionally, and on a more somber note, there are also fewer and fewer original siblings alive to attend each year.
Attendance has been dwindling the past two or three reunions and we asked ourselves if every two years is simply too often. Some families admitted to coming only every other reunion and others said they’re too busy to see their immediate families as much as they like, let alone to invest a whole weekend with extended relatives.
I hear that.
So this year, my uncle thought to survey all of the attendees and invitees to ask if they want to keep on a two-year schedule or switch to every three or five years. When my sister and I walked up to cast our vote, we were expecting a ballot box of sorts. Instead, there was a sign-up sheet where we were to write down our names and check the two-, three- or five-year box.
My sister looked at me and muttered, “I thought this was going to be anonymous…”
I saw that the dozen-or-so people who signed in before us mostly checked the two- and three-year boxes. Suspecting that they were scared of looking unenthusiastic, I boldly selected the five-year box. So did my sister.
For those who couldn’t attend or forgot to vote at the actual event, we sent out the same question in a survey via SurveyMonkey, which was truly anonymous.
I went in to check the stats a few days ago and the majority of those who voted online selected the five-year option, which could be due to the bravery that comes with anonymity or simply that the relatives who didn’t attend probably can’t or don’t want to come more often than twice a decade.
Obviously this little data collection experiment of ours is far from valid and had many flaws. Perhaps with anonymous voting at the reunion itself we would’ve had a better idea of how different the attitudes are of those who attended and those who didn’t. Still, I think it’s a good example of how different methodologies can influence results and how groupthink plays a part.
Still, the final tally of in-person and online responses were the same: We’re moving to a schedule of every five years.
How do you correct for different modes of data collection? Is there ever a time in quantitative research where anonymity is not preferred? Does my family’s slapdash, half-baked attempt at surveying make your skin crawl?