Exercises and Discussion Questions

2.1       A researcher wishes to study key business leaders to learn their opinions about issues facing a metropolitan area. Define this population in specific operational terms.

“Business leaders” is not an easy term to define. Should leadership be defined through participation in civic organizations such as a Chamber of Commerce? Through titles such as company president? If leadership is defined through titles, what titles and what organizations qualify? Does a plant manager qualify if the plant is a major local employer and the plant manager is the company’s highest local executive? Does a university president qualify if the university is a major local employer, even though the university is not a business per se? Does the president of a company not qualify if the company is very small? Can more than one leader come from the same organization?

The answers are likely to depend on who is doing the research and for what purpose. If a local Chamber of Commerce is conducting a survey to set its legislative agenda, it probably will limit the population to its members, and probably will include smaller companies, though it may stratify the sample to ensure that larger organizations are well represented (we discuss stratified sampling in Chapter 5). If the economic development department of a local government is trying to learn how the economy might be expanded, it probably will limit the population to organizations with high economic impact, it may focus on specific industries that are considered to be the best candidates for growth, and it may include executives or organizations that are outside the local area but can make decisions that affect it.

The purpose of this exercise is not to focus on a “right answer,” but to help you realize how difficult it can be to define a population in operational terms. In the case of “business leaders,” if five different people are asked to define this population, they are likely to give five different specific answers. To illustrate this point, do an online search for “business leaders survey” and see what you get. If you have the same experience that we had when we did this search, the first five examples you see all will have different operational definitions.

2.2       The municipal government of a “college town” wishes to survey area residents regarding their park and recreation needs. Define this population in specific operational terms. Should children be eligible to respond? People who live outside the city boundaries? Students at the local university, who have access to university facilities? Students who live in dormitories? Students in fraternities or sororities? People in the local jail? People in a homeless shelter? People in nursing homes?

The conventional definition for this population will be something like: “adults who reside in households within the city borders.” The municipal government probably will want to restrict the population to city residents, and most surveys exclude minors under the age 18 and residents of group quarters such as dormitories, fraternities, sororities, shelters, nursing homes, and jails.

“Adults who reside in households within the city borders” will include students who live in off-campus apartments. The municipal government may wish to exclude students who use campus recreational facilities rather than municipal facilities, on grounds that they are unlikely to use any facilities that might be provided. For example, if students are more interested in exercise facilities than children’s playgrounds, but will go to the campus rec center to exercise, the city may wish to give priority to playgrounds. If so, such a restriction could be added to the population definition.

More generally, the government may wish to restrict the survey to people who have used municipal parks and recreation facilities within the past year, or who say they would use those facilities if changes were made. Such a restriction would not be limited to students, and would make it unnecessary to ask whether potential respondents use university facilities.

The municipal government may wish to restrict the population to people who are registered to vote in the city, on grounds that it ultimately serves the voters. Alternately, the survey may ask such a question without making it a restriction, so the government can see whether voters seem to be on board with general preferences.

On a related point, the restriction to city residents is based on the premise that the municipal government wishes to serve its own residents. If the city is contemplating facilities that would be made available to non-residents for a fee, or that would derive revenues from events attended by all area residents, then it may wish to expand the population to include residents of the entire area, to get a better picture of total demand for the facilities. This is particularly likely if such revenues are needed to help pay for the facilities. 

2.3       A friend of yours is running for a place on the local school board, and you agree to help her by surveying local voters to learn which issues are most important and what they would like the school board to do. Can you get a list of registered voters who live in the school district? If so, does it contain mailing addresses? Telephone numbers? E-mail addresses? Apart from this, is there a directory of telephone numbers that might be usable for your purposes? A directory of mailing addresses? A directory of e-mail addresses?

You should be able to get a list of registered voters with mailing addresses from the county registrar – and it is unlikely that you will be able to find a directory of e-mail addresses that offers anything like complete coverage of local voters – but the specific answers to these questions will depend on your area.