Confidentiality and Persuasive Messaging in Surveys of Businesses, Organizations, and Institutes

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 11:00
Oral Presentation
Aryn HERNANDEZ, U.S. Census Bureau, USA
Krysten MESNER, U.S. Census Bureau, USA
Diane WILLIMACK, U.S. Census Bureau, USA
The production of official statistics about the economy relies on businesses’ participation in sample surveys conducted by National Statistics Institutes (NSIs). While many of these surveys are mandatory, suggesting legal consequences for nonparticipation, NSIs prefer to persuade response rather than threaten prosecution. This requires effective communication with businesses and their community.

Research has shown that business survey respondents may be motivated by assurances that the confidentiality of their data is protected and by information about how their data is used. Pledges of confidentiality and security are often shrouded in legal phrasing, and survey data, which require application of technical statistical methodologies, are often used to make decisions that affect businesses indirectly. Neither of these are easily communicated by straightforward plain language.

In the United States, statistical agencies must meet the informed consent requirements of three laws associated with response burden, privacy, and cybersecurity. To facilitate compliance, the Department of Commerce suggested language to incorporate into survey ‘Authority and Confidentiality’ statements. However, cognitive research has identified issues with respondents’ understanding and interpretation of various words and phrases that may be concerning and counter-productive to survey response goals. Considering concerns with nonresponse, the U.S. Census Bureau has undertaken cognitive testing to identify effective and reassuring ways to communicate the legitimacy of this information to business respondents. We also investigated possible persuasive messaging with business respondents, particularly to improve their knowledge of beneficial uses of survey data.

In this paper, we will describe our use of card sorting activities, along with traditional cognitive interviewing, to stimulate expression of respondents’ viewpoints. We will present findings about confidentiality language preferred by business respondents, along with the more motivating persuasive messages. The results of this research will enable the Census Bureau to foster a greater sense of trust and motivation among our business respondents.