The Design of Field Experiments With Survey Outcomes: A Framework for Selecting More Efficient, Robust, and Ethical Designs
71 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2016 Last revised: 21 Sep 2017
Date Written: September 20, 2017
There is increasing interest in experiments where outcomes are measured by surveys and treatments are delivered by a separate mechanism in the real world, such as by mailers, door-to-door canvasses, phone calls, or online ads. However, common designs for such experiments are often prohibitively expensive, vulnerable to bias, and raise ethical concerns. We show how four methodological practices currently uncommon in such experiments have previously undocumented complementarities that can dramatically relax these constraints when at least two are used in combination: 1) online surveys recruited from a defined sampling frame 2) with at least one baseline wave prior to treatment 3) with multiple items combined into an index to measure outcomes and, 4) when possible, a placebo control. We provide a general and extensible framework that allows researchers to determine the most efficient mix of these practices in diverse applications. Two studies then examine how these practices perform in real applications. First, we examine the representativeness of online panel respondents recruited from a defined sampling frame and find that their representativeness compares favorably to phone panel respondents. Second, an original experiment successfully implements all four practices in the context of a door-to-door canvassing experiment. We conclude discussing potential extensions.
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