Assessing recall bias and measurement error in high-frequency social data collection for human-environment research

Andrew Bell, Patrick Ward, Md Ehsanul Haque Tamal, Mary Killilea

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A major impediment to understanding human-environment interactions is that data on social systems are not collected in a way that is easily comparable to natural systems data. While many environmental variables are collected with high frequency, gridded in time and space, social data is typically conducted irregularly, in waves that are far apart in time. These efforts typically engage respondents for hours at a time, and suffer from decay in participants’ ability to recall their experiences over long periods of time. Systematic use of mobile and smartphones has the potential to transcend these challenges, with a critical first step being an evaluation of where survey respondents experience the greatest recall decay. We present results from, to our knowledge, the first systematic evaluation of recall bias in components of a household survey, using the Open Data Kit (ODK) platform on Android smartphones. We tasked approximately 500 farmers in rural Bangladesh with responding regularly to components of a large household survey, randomizing the frequency of each task to be received weekly, monthly, or seasonally. We find respondents’ recall of consumption and experience (such as sick days) to suffer much more greatly than their recall of the use of their households’ time for labor and farm activities. Further, we demonstrate a feasible and cost-effective means of engaging respondents in rural areas to create and maintain a true socio-economic “baseline” to mirror similar efforts in the natural sciences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)325-345
Number of pages21
JournalPopulation and Environment
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 15 2019


  • Android smartphone
  • Bangladesh
  • High-frequency data collection
  • Microtasks for micropayments

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Assessing recall bias and measurement error in high-frequency social data collection for human-environment research'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this