Since I studied abroad in Australia last spring, I still regularly check into Australian news; this morning I found an article that is particularly pertinent to our class's focus on survey data.
It all began when the Australian Department of Transport and Main Roads decided to implement a survey of bus stops along James Cook University in order to gauge how many people were using the buses along the route; the results showed that the bus stops were being grossly underused, which resulted in the decision to cut services to these stops in order to protect the financial resources used to maintain these routes.
However, Sunbus, the company that ran the survey on behalf of the Australian Department of Transport and Main Roads, failed to communicate with University officials when deciding when to do the survey. As it turns out, the survey gathered data from a non-representative sample; the sampling time frame that was used happened to be exam week at the university, a time, as we all know, that significantly reduces traffic on campus since students tend to either be at home or in the library studying.
This real-world example of misleading survey data should be taken as a lesson of the importance of accurate sampling and effective communication in research. When conducting surveys, it is highly important to select a sampling time frame that will reflect a "normal" event. It is also important to consider whether one survey sampling time is adequate; in this instance, if more than one survey had been conducted at different time intervals, it is likely the data from the exam period would be have been considered abnormal, or outliers, instead of the norm.
Just as it is important to select representative sampling time frames and intervals, it is equally as important for clients to communicate effectively with all parties involved in survey data. Had the research company spoken to University officials, they would have been informed about the dates of exams and could have a chosen a time that more accurately reflected day-to-day usage of the buses. This one oversight led to a waste of government monetary resources and could affect all students and teachers that rely on campus bus stops for safe transportation.
For full news coverage, click here.