Cross Cultural Survey Guidelines
We are currently engaged in a research project for a client in South Korea, so issues of cross-cultural communication are top-of-mind for us right now. Whether we rely on translations, or whether we speak the same language as our clients and respondents, it is important for researchers to understand differences in how people think and respond to research questions because data is always context sensitive.
For example, in some cultures people are especially reluctant to give negative answers, which exaggerates the positive-response bias we are accustomed to seeing in the U.S. Even seemingly “factual” questions can be subject to measurement error and biases that make cross-cultural comparisons potentially difficult.
To help, a team of academic researchers led by the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center and the University of Nebraska’s Survey Research and Methodology Program have just released a new set of guidelines for best practices in cross-cultural surveys. They address a full range of topics, including questionnaire design, translation, adaptation and quality. The guidelines are excellent (and voluminous – 638 pages) and provide an essential primer on problems and solutions for comparative survey research across cultures and countries.
The guidelines are also a good reminder that researchers should always be sensitive to cultural issues, biases, and variations even within their own cultures. Statistically significant gender variation may reflect important differences between men and women, or it may reflect basic cultural differences in how men and women answer survey questions. Remember to keep both possibilities in mind, and think about ways to query your data to uncover the most plausible answer.
If you’re not sure about how culture and context affect your plan for research or the data you are analyzing, we would be happy to offer you our best thinking. Please don’t hesitate to call us at 312-348-6089.
—Joe Hopper, Ph.D.