Population Council researchers and information technology specialists have developed customizable interview software that safeguards privacy and improves standardization of data collected on sensitive topics.
Effective policies and programs are built on accurate data. But when researchers ask questions face-to-face about sensitive topics—such as risky sexual behaviors—the possibility that respondents may not answer truthfully can be increased because of embarrassment or fear.
The Council has created software that provides greater privacy and confidentiality than face-to-face interviews and allows for standardization of the data collected. Called audio computer-assisted self-interviewing (ACASI), this technology allows respondents to listen to prerecorded survey questions through headphones and record responses using a touch screen or keypad. Respondents may simultaneously read the questions from a tablet screen, or they may close or hide the screen for complete privacy. The technology also allows for computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) in which interviewers ask face-to-face questions, and responses are recorded using ACASI.
Studies comparing ACASI with face-to-face interviews indicate respondents are more likely to answer sensitive questions with greater candor when using ACASI. For example, respondents are more likely to touch the number 2 on a screen than say to an interviewer, “I had unprotected sex twice last week.”
In addition to providing a way for respondents to answer sensitive questions honestly, using ACASI to collect data ensures that questions are asked the same way in each interview. Collected responses are automatically stored in a database, eliminating the need to manually input data, thereby reducing error and saving time and money.
ACASI devices can accommodate numerous types of questions and answers. Respondents can select Yes/No/Maybe, use a dialpad to respond, click on a graphic multiple times to indicate the number of times an event occurred, click on a calendar to describe behavior over a seven-day period, and so forth. The software has been adapted to recognize 21 languages and dialects. It is available on a variety of platforms, including Windows-based laptops, touch-screen tablets, and Android smartphones and tablets to allow for more flexibility in research design in different environments.
ACASI has been used in field-based surveys, clinical trials, and studies, including school-based longitudinal studies of adolescents, microbicide research, and clinical trials of the Council’s innovative one-year contraceptive vaginal ring.
By ensuring standardization of interviews, privacy of interview responses, and the flexibility to reach even illiterate populations, the Council’s ACASI software is improving the way data on sensitive behaviors are collected.