Asking survey respondents about reasons for their behavior: A split ballot experiment in Ethiopia
When policymakers design programs and policies, they often want to understand why individuals engage in particular behaviors. Collecting survey data about respondents’ reasons for their behavior presents important challenges, and there is little methodological research on this topic. We conducted an experiment to investigate the best practices for asking questions about respondents’ reasons for their behavior. We embedded a split ballot experiment in a face-to-face survey of 608 entrepreneurs in Ethiopia. Respondents were asked questions about why they did not engage in three business practices (advertising, sharing product storage, and switching suppliers). When asked these questions, respondents were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: close-ended questions, open-ended questions with interviewer probing, and open-ended questions without probing. Respondents endorsed more responses when asked close-ended (versus open-ended) questions. Close-ended responses produced higher rates of socially undesirable responses and fewer “other” responses. Notably, probing had no effect on the number or types of responses given. Our results suggest some best practices for asking respondents questions about reasons for their behavior.