Survey Methodology:

An Innovative Technique for Estimating Sensitive Survey Items

GGD-00-30: Published: Nov 1, 1999. Publicly Released: Nov 1, 1999.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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GAO provided information on an innovative technique (called the "three-card method") for collecting data on sensitive policy-relevant topics.

GAO noted that: (1) the three-card method is designed to collect sensitive data in large-scale surveys; it is intended to allow estimation of the needed statistics while maximizing response privacy and reducing "question threat"; (2) GAO originally devised this technique to collect data on immigration, but it believes that the technique might also prove useful in a variety of other sensitive policy areas where the collection of relevant information has, thus far, proved elusive; (3) a scientific survey involves a representative sample of the population of interest; (4) GAO's technique extends this approach to select three independent representative samples, each composed of completely different persons; (5) all persons are asked the same potentially sensitive question; (6) all are presented with answer alternatives printed on an 8 1/2 by 11 card, using a design that arranges the answer alternatives in different boxes on the card; (7) this arrangement avoids zeroing in on the sensitive answer category; (8) the logic of the technique involves: (a) a three-box answer format, which is used on each card; (b) three slightly different cards (cards 1, 2, and 3), one for each sample; and (c) indirect estimation of the sensitive category; (9) no respondent is ever directly asked whether he or she is in the sensitive category; (10) each sample provides a different piece of less sensitive information--a different piece of the puzzle; and (11) the outlines of the missing sensitive piece are apparent for the population as a whole when all other pieces are in place.

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