How To: Challenges of running Tracker Projects with Fixed-File formats like SPSS Quantum and Triple-S, Dooblo Recommendations
Most Market Research projects tend to be either an Adhoc type of project or a Tracker type of project. The main difference between the two being that while with adhoc studies the data is usually only exported once at the end of the project, the data of tracker based studies is exported multiple times, usually after each wave is complete and in order for the data processing team to be able to tie up the new wave data to the old one(s) there might be more challenges than with the case of adhoc studies. This guide covers the challenges of using fixed file formats like SPSS Quantum or Fixed Triple-S with tracker type of studies. Dooblo essentially recommends to not use these formats with tracker based studies unless you are fully aware of the challenges and know exactly how to handle them.
The Challenges of fixed file formats & trackers
The big issue of fixed file formats is that they are, well, fixed! So if the coding of Q1 needs to be in row 1, column 1 of the file and takes up 1 character – it needs to stay that way throughout the entire lifecycle of the tracker data and must never change otherwise it will generate issues when aggregating multiple data files from multiple waves. Here are some examples of common scenarios that can cause a huge issue with trackers data files that are later aggregated:
- Single choice question with 9 brands to choose from, which after a few weeks and a few addition suddenly now has 12 brands: So in the first weeks 1 character was enough to hold the code (1-9), now suddenly 2 characters are needed.
- Grid question with 6 topics now suddenly has 7 topics: So again, the data needs to be shifted somehow to accommodate the extra topic.
- A question is added between 2 existing questions: So now all the previous data needs to be shifted to the correct position to accommodate the change, or other measures need to be taken.
These are just 3 examples of common scenarios that happen frequently with tracker studies and the potential effect on the Data Processing team might be critical as it might cause a lot of extra work to re-generate the previous data in the correct format to allow for the data aggregation that is needed.
Actually, the best solution to tackle these challenges is to not face them to begin with. This means that it is our recommendation to not use fixed file formats with tracker studies due to the potential headache that can be caused by these older formats. The newer formats like SPSS and SPSS Data Collection (formerly known as Dimensions) do not depend on the specific position of the data within the file but rather refer to the data based on variable names and codes which means the above challenges will not exist. However, we recognize that in some cases usage of the fixed file formats like SPSS Quantum or Fixed Triple-S can’t be avoided and therefore we have constructed a set of best-practices for using these types of formats for tracker studies:
- Make sure to always leave “spaces” for answers. For example, if you have less than 10 answers for a question, make sure to add 20 answers and make the last 10 invisible so that 2 characters are saved for the answers.
- The same goes for topics in grids. Always make sure to add a few extra topics so that more space is reserved in the data file to accommodate future topics.
- When adding questions, make sure to manipulate the maps of the data file so that the question is exported at the end of the file and not in the natural position
The above best practices will tackle the challenges by ensuring extra space is saved in the file to accommodate future changes in the script. However the above are not a 100% guarantee as more radical changes in the script can still cause issues.
SPSS Quantum specific challenges
In addition to the above mentioned challenges, as SPSS Quantum is a very old format which for quite some time now is being phased out by IBM (see this page for end-of-support info), Dooblo has stopped adding support for newer question types (like multiple selection gird and location questions) to the Quantum exporter meaning you should consult with Dooblo support to ensure your script only uses supported question types. Please note that Dooblo recommends using the Quantum format only in extreme cases where other formats can’t be used.
Fixed file Triple-S specific challenges
With Triple-S Dooblo has added an export mode called “enhanced Triple-S” which is intended to be used with trackers. In this mode SurveyToGo will automatically “space out” the fixed file format to try and implement the best-practices noted above along with adding some special Dooblo XML elements to the map file in order for SurveyToGo to be able to identify the questions in the map and to accommodate the best-practices:
It is recommended to use this mode when running trackers with Triple-S.
The use of “Fixed File” formats such as SPSS Quantum and Triple-S for tracker study is highly not recommended due to the inherent limitations within these files and the data processing requirements of such projects. Dooblo recommends using export formats such as SPSS or IBM SPSS Data Collection (formerly Dimensions) with tracker studies. In case using filed-file formats is critical for the project, please consult the above best practices and the Dooblo support team to ensure smooth execution of the project.
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