Spring to Winter 2005
We are excited to receive funding from the Sir John Templeton Foundation for the first large-scale private firm study in the Yangzi delta ($2 million).
We conduct in-depth exploratory interviews with entrepreneurs in the Yangzi delta region with the help of Professor Si Jinchuan and the Center for the Study of Private Enterprise at Zhejiang University. The aim is to gain background understanding on the private enterprise economy and its development in the Yangzi delta region.
An equally crucial challenge during this period is to find a survey research organization capable of conducting a large-scale survey of private firms. We heard from colleagues that private entrepreneurs are not likely to agree to participate in an academic study. Also, our exploratory interviews with entrepreneurs revealed that some worry about confidentiality issues in a highly competitive market and uncertain environment for private enterprise. All this does not sound too promising; but we continue our search for a local partner.
Spring and Summer 2006
We have done our homework! Not only did the first round of interviews crucially help to refine our survey instrument and research focus. We are finally ready to enter into a multi-year collaboration with the survey research unit of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Trial interviews have been promising, the sampling strategy is approved, and our team is eager to move on to the next stage, the first survey wave!
The second half of the year is exciting. We are getting ready to bring our first survey wave to the field. Rumors of other surveys ending up with low response rates and cooked date have alerted us. The ambition is to have perfectly trained interviewers, high standards of quality control (including a call-back system by team supervisors), constant monitoring of interviewers in the field and of course, a sufficiently large pilot-survey allowing us to test our survey instrument. In September our pilot questionnaire is ready for testing, and we travel back to Shanghai to convene a multi-day training workshop with our interviewers. Target group discussions help to improve the wording of our questionnaire, test interviews and intensive training bring us as close to the ideal of standardized interviews as possible. We feel, we are ready for the challenge and start our first pre-test with 70 firms (10 in each of the seven survey cities).
The results from our pretest are promising and indicate no serious problems of the survey design. Within weeks after the analysis of the pretest, we are ready to start our first survey in the end of 2006! 700 randomly selected interviews in seven cities of the Yangzi delta region! An exciting period begins. Would the participation rate be satisfactory? Would entrepreneurs be willing to provide answers on some of the more critical questions? But messages from the field do not signal any serious problems. Our careful preparation seems to pay off! Response rates meet academic standards, and non-responses are a rare exception in our survey!
Work on our first book project is launched after a year of data analysis focusing on the 2006 survey. In parallel, work on the questionnaire for our second survey wave begins. New items are added to examine social networks and norms. We want get fine-grained empirical data to understand better the role of norms and networks in the private enterprise economy.
Time is flying! We are back to Shanghai for our next training and pre-test period. A large part of our prior interviewers are still on board. In spite of challenging new items (such as experimental tasks added to the survey questionnaire), the training runs splendidly and we are quickly ready for our second pre-test. After a pre-test with 70 entrepreneurs, need for refinement is limited again. It seems the more demanding questionnaire is ready to be brought to the field.
Although the economic crisis has arrived with full effect in China, our local partners are not discouraged and eager to launch the second survey-wave. So, far there are hardly any bankruptcies within our initial random sample of entrepreneurs. The majority of entrepreneurs is surprisingly willing to participate again, giving us an unexpectedly high re-survey rate of more than 75 percent.
Fall 2009 to Spring 2011
During repeated fieldwork visits at our survey sites, we meet with entrepreneurs who participated in the survey and other informants in the field, and conduct in-depth face-to-face interviews. Each visit brings valuable rich information and new insights. Most importantly, the combined use of face-to-face interviews and survey material proves to be essential to get the interpretation of our quantitative data right.