Improving the Quality of Background Variables in the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP)
Social Monitoring & Social Change: ISSP GESIS Mannheim, Germany
An ISSP module consists of two parts: the substantive questions and the ISSP background variables. In contrast to the substantive questionnaire with an input harmonisation approach where questions and related variables are developed by the ISSP in a joint effort, the ISSP background variables result from a more or less output harmonised approach.
From the very beginning of the ISSP in the 1980s, there was a set of obligatory background variables called the ISSP standard background variables. The measurement goals were stipulated but question wording, question order or construction rules were not fixed. Over the years, problems with the ISSP background variables originally developed for a small number of co-operating Western countries have occurred with the increasing number of ISSP members, nowadays coming from different cultures and from all around the world. Concerns about the ISSP background variables in this global context resulted in a review and revision process by the ISSP itself that is still in progress.
This presentation reports how the ISSP deals with these concerns about the compliance of the ISSP members´ implementation of the ISSP background variables with the intended measurement goals. To improve its background variables the ISSP first required a detailed documentation of the construction process of the ISSP standard background variables from each individual ISSP member country. In a second step this ISSP member wide documentation was completely reviewed to learn about the problems. In a third step the analytical relevance of the ISSP background variables was examined to learn about the use of the ISSP background variables by the scientific community. Findings from these three steps contribute to the continuous improvement process of ISSP background variables and help to decide on far reaching changes of the ISSP background variables. The ISSP is currently updating its standard background variables and developing a comprehensive construction schema where basic information for each ISSP background variable and some guidelines to help ISSP members to construct the background variables in an appropriate way are included.