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Survey fatigue and the tragedy of the commons: Are we undermining our evaluation practice?

Adrian Field

The arrival of low-cost online and automated survey technologies has substantially increased the possibilities for gathering data on people’s views and experiences. In the face of COVID-19, this has enabled continued outreach to people at a time when face-to-face surveys are often impossible. Yet the enhanced opportunity for gathering data also brings with it the danger of its over-use, and with it, the onset of survey fatigue.
In this piece, I discuss the challenges of survey fatigue, and I ask if we are treating people’s patience and trust in research processes as a limitless resource, when in fact goodwill has its limits. Parallels are drawn between survey fatigue and the concept of the “tragedy of the commons”, in which systems of exploitation ultimately undermine their own viability. Finally, I explore possible responses, and our obligations to exercise our evaluative practice with due care for research participants, and the sustainability of our profession.

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