• Presentation

The ABCs of Interim Tracking: Balancing Attrition, Burden, and Cost


Townsend, K. R., Marks, E. L., & Rhodes, B. B. (2007, May). The ABCs of Interim Tracking: Balancing Attrition, Burden, and Cost. Presented at American Association for Public Opinion Research Conference, Anaheim, CA.


The ability to locate and re-interview baseline survey participants at the time of the follow-up survey is critical in longitudinal surveys. To maximize future participation, researchers have employed interim tracking activities involving varying levels of periodicity and intensity. Decisions regarding the frequency of contact and the effort undertaken to locate respondents between survey waves need to balance competing interest, namely low rates of attrition, minimization of respondent burden and cost efficiency. The work presented here examines the impact on attrition rates associated with the introduction of cost-saving and burden-reducing measures to an established and highly successful retention plan.Tracking activities were undertaken to retain a sample of low-income study participants in a longitudinal study with 4 years between survey waves. During the first year of sample maintenance, an approach was taken that included two rounds of intensive locating efforts, each of which involved mailings, follow-up phone calls, and household visits to nonrespondents to verify or update sample members’ address and telephone information. Incentives were paid to sample members who participated. These efforts resulted in attrition rates of less than 5%. To eliminate any potential overexposure effect associated with identical appeals, during the second year of maintenance activities an alternative approach was developed to engage respondents’ attention while simultaneously reducing burden and cost. In particular, the appearance, timing and respondent incentive structure were varied. The presentation discusses the relative effectiveness of the two approaches in balancing attrition rates, burden and cost-efficiency.