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Remembering the Early Days of CATI

The Advent of the CATI/Online Hybrid

Remembering the Early Days of CATI

Ian Roberts
Posted on 18 May 2015 in CATI
by Ian Roberts
3 min

Not so very long ago, most quantitative research was administered via paper-and-pencil, via telephone or in-person, by interviewing staff. For those too new to our industry to recall that era, it’s somewhat difficult to convey the enthusiasm with which technology facilitating data collection was welcomed into the market research industry.

Incorporating technology into the process of data collection: The “game” changes

Research suppliers enjoyed being able to efficiently streamline elements of the research that had previously been costly and time-consuming to complete … whilst ensuring that the data collected was highly-reliable. Clients were enthusiastic about what they perceived to be a higher degree of sophistication and precision in their studies – and, of course, they were thrilled about the savings in time and money that the new technology conveyed!

A methodology referred to as “CATI” was one of the first forays into synthesizing technology and research data collection. “CATI” (pronounced “Katie” or “Catty”) is an acronym for Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviewing.

What, exactly, is a “CATI” market research study?

As its name implies, a questionnaire used in a CATI study – including question text, interviewer instructions, and skip logic - is pre-programmed into an individual computer or onto a computer network, using specialized software.

During a telephone interview, a respondent and the interviewer are typically speaking to one another via telephone. Instead of administering the survey from a hard-copy paper survey, the interviewer reads each question to the respondent exactly as it appears on the screen of the computer, and enters the respondent’s answers directly into the questionnaire program in real time as the survey progresses. Pre-programmed “skips” ensure that the correct questions are always asked, according to the specific responses provided by the participant.

The decline of “First-Generation CATI”

As technology has grown more sophisticated, researchers have transitioned to using online questionnaires more and more frequently for quantitative market research studies. These online questionnaires allow the respondent to complete a survey without the involvement of a human interviewer, at any time of the day or night; online surveys may even include questions that require the respondents to react to visual and/or audio stimuli, which is not possible in a phone-only format. Concurrently, recruiting has become a matter of sending electronic invitations to hundreds or even thousands of individuals via email with just the click of a mouse, rather than using human recruiters who can only call and screen one potential respondent at a time.

As these advantages became more and more obvious, and as researchers and their clients became more and more comfortable with the technology necessary to conduct online studies, researchers started to rely on the CATI methodology with decreasing frequency. As time went on, both clients and suppliers began to perceive phone interview as an outdated approach to research; in recent times it has been used only sporadically.

All in all, researchers sought a more seamless, increasingly holistic approach to the art and science of market research – one that allowed them to “bundle” diverse qualitative and quantitative approaches together when indicated. In response to these needs, they created a hybrid methodology that combined the best of what telephone and online research had to offer. This new approach allows us, as researchers, to meet increasingly-complex client objectives and disparate information needs.

Part 2 of this series will discuss a key aspect of this holistic approach:  The Online/CATI “Hybrid” Methodology.  In that post, find out why this new approach has been a true “game changer” for those who have adopted it, and why is CATI making a comeback.


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