Can You Do a Telephone Survey in the Cloud?

One of my very able PhD students is working on a better instrument for measuring the interaction of national and European identities. Thanks to the generosity of the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, we can now road-test some of his ideas in a three-wave telephone survey. Fieldwork for the first wave will commence on Monday, and we are rather excited, not least because we are running this survey in our own “studio”, with a large number of student research assistants working as interviewers.

Worldclouds 2009
NASA Earth Observatory / Foter / Public domain

In the past, the university had installed the voxco software in a PC lab that was equipped with headsets and landlines. But the program never worked well and became de facto unusable once the service contract waterminated. Looking for alternatives when we moved into a new building, we came across queXS, an open source CATI software that is based on limesurvey. Limesurvey had worked well for us in the past, so we gave queXS a spin and rather liked it. The only remaining problem was that our IT support could not setup the necessary servers and patch them into the university’s voice over ip infrastructure in time (we want to be in the field well before the Euro 2014 campaign takes off in two weeks or so). So we got in touch with ACSPRI, the Australian Consortium for Social and Political Research Incorporated, which offers access to a Amazon cloud-based installation of queXS that can be rented on a monthly basis for a reasonable fee. ACSPRI also helped us to find a German VOIP provider whose network we will use to place the calls.

Now our “studio” is still based in a university PC lab. But this is mostly an issue of convenience, and of easy supervision. In fact, it could be run on laptops or even tablet computers anywhere on the planet. The software is browser-based and hosted in some unknown, unmarked data centre somewhere. Connectivity to German landlines is provided through software in another data centre, and this whole virtualised infrastructure is supported and maintained from the other end of the world. Apart from the headsets, the only tangible part of the studio is a bunch of pen-drives that hold the interviewers’ access codes. Eerie, isn’t it?

The tests went well, but will it work in practice? I’ll keep you posted.

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