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Survey Says!

CLAS Center Goes to the Polls

The Florida Survey Research Center has its own state-of-the-art telephone bank for phone surveys
The Florida Survey Research Center has its own state-of-the-art telephone bank for phone surveys. It also has the ability to carry out in-person, door-to-door, focus group, web-based and mail surveys for both on- and off-campus organizations. (Photo by Jane Dominguez)

This article was originally published in the August - September 2005 issue of CLASnotes.

The next time you see an unrecognized phone number on your caller ID box, and the person on the other end says, “Hello, my name is Janet, and I’m calling on behalf of…” don’t hang up until you hear the rest of the sentence. It might just be a fellow Gator from the Florida Survey Research Center conducting a research poll.

The Florida Survey Research Center (FSRC) is housed in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and provides high-quality survey research and analysis on a variety of topics, ranging from readership surveys to faculty research studies. Completely self-funded, the center designs, conducts and analyzes surveys for clients such as the Legal Defense Fund, Florida Association of Realtors and the NAACP.

But FSRC seems to get the most pleasure from helping UF faculty and graduate students design and implement surveys for research projects. The center was established in 1992 by Political Science Associate Professor Michael Scicchitano, who serves as its director in addition to overseeing the department’s graduate program in public administration.

“I envisioned a center that would fit in with the political science department and would be a resource for its faculty and graduate students,” Scicchitano says. When Research Director Tracy Johns came to work for the FSRC in 1995, the UF alumna saw its potential and diversified its clientele to other departments within the college, such as geography, as well as colleagues from across campus, including IFAS and the College of Design, Construction and Planning.

“Then we started branching out into all different kinds of things,” Johns says, who earned all three of her sociology degrees—BA, MA and PhD—from UF and teaches as an adjunct professor for the Departments of Sociology and Political Science. “We have kept with our core idea, but pull from different areas which helps us remain self-sufficient.”

Located directly off-campus in a facility on Northwest 8th Avenue, FSRC employs 30–40 part-time interviewers, many of whom are UF students. The center has its own state-of-the-art telephone bank for phone surveys, but also has the ability to carry out in-person, door-to-door, focus group, web-based and mail surveys. With Scicchitano and Johns at its helm, the center also has the expertise to conduct data analysis on survey findings and write up research reports. “One of the things that separates us from other research or data gathering centers is that we can either do it all or any aspect of a study,” says Johns.

The FSRC client list largely contains government agencies, academic researchers, and associations/organizations. While the center also works with businesses, it refuses to market or sell goods.

The Villages luxury retirement community, located between Orlando and Ocala, hired the FSRC in 2004 to survey employees of local businesses on their housing situation—type, affordability and satisfaction—since some are unable to reside within the community due to its age requirement of 55 years or older.

According to Vice President of Development Gary Moyer, The Villages conducts regular in-house surveys of its residents by mail, but decided to hire FSRC to conduct the more complicated task of surveying area workers by telephone. The company has used the survey’s findings to plan and track the affordable housing needs of employees and monitor its impact on the area community.

The Villages is not the only entity to benefit from FSRC’s ability to make daunting tasks easier. The Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Middle District of Florida hired the center to conduct a poll to help determine whether a change of venue was needed in the ongoing trial of four alleged members of what is suspected to be the North American arm of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an international terrorist organization. Three of the four men arrested in February 2003 reside in the Tampa area and face charges of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder.

Defense attorney Andrea Stubbs, who represents Tampa medical clinic worker Hatim Naji Fariz, did not believe her client or his co-defendants Sami Al-Arian, Sameeh Hamoudeh and Ghassan Zeyed Ballut could get a fair trial in Tampa and employed the FSRC this spring to poll residents at random in Florida’s largest cities on their familiarity with the case.

“I looked online and spoke to several universities,” says Stubbs. “Being a government agency we had to get bids, and UF won. There are actually jury consultant companies that have expertise in this particular kind of surveying, but they are extremely expensive so we wanted to find someone that could do basically the same thing for far less money. Also, we wanted someone who would be well-spoken and well-received by the court in case they were asked to speak before the judge.” The judge denied the change of venue request, and the trial is ongoing in Tampa.

Since 2000, the FSRC has worked on nearly 50 research projects with UF faculty and students. CLAS Associate Dean for Minority Affairs and Sociology Professor Terry Mills recently used the center for data collection on a study on the differences in the indicators of depression among African-American and Caucasian older adults. The center called nearly 2,600 households for the telephone survey.

“It is highly unlikely I would have been able to conduct this study without the assistance of the FSRC,” says Mills. “Specifically, the FSRC has the telephone bank and the experienced telephone interviewers who are trained to handle such matters, and their set-up allows a supervisor to monitor the calls and suggest ways to improve communication.”

When working with UF graduate students on their thesis and dissertation research, the FSRC only charges enough to cover its basic out-of-pocket costs. IFAS graduate student Crystal Jackson used the center to poll 5,000 US farms on the effectiveness of the FDA and USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices program, which educates farms in 23 states on the spread and prevention of food-bourne illnesses.

FSRC designed and mailed out the survey and cataloged the results into 14 cross-tab correlations, lightening Jackson’s workload. The FSRC completed the survey in March, and Jackson graduated with a master’s degree in food science and human nutrition in August. “They were great to work with,” she says. “During the spring I was doing a 40-hour a week internship while working on my research project, and they were able to work around my schedule. It would have been a nightmare without them!”

To utilize the FSRC on your next project, call toll free at (866) 392-3475, send an E-mail to FSRC@ufsurveyresearchcenter.cfcoxmail.com, or visit www.flsurveyresearch.org for more information.

—Buffy Lockette

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