At the start of my tracking career in 1999, I was tasked with finding over 900 illicit drug users from ten years prior, using scant identifiable participant data. I didn’t know a thing. I even told them in the interview. Ha!
As I reflect back on that time, a new awareness becomes apparent. What I thought was a bad situation was actually a great one. Let me explain. Going into this job, here’s an abbreviated list of things I didn’t know:
1. Anything about the population.
2. Any strategies to locate the population.
3. Any resources available to assist in the search.
4. Any skills to interact with the population.
5. Any effective identifiable information or leads.
Seems pretty rough, right? Yes, and no. Because of my lack of experience, I never developed the following beliefs:
1. This task is impossible.
2. This population is extremely difficult to find.
3. You can’t find people without complete identifiable information.
4. Longitudinal studies with this population is risky.
5. A kid from North Dakota has no chance of succeeding with this project.
I had a clean slate. I didn’t know I should be preparing for failure. The only thing I knew is that I was hired to do a job, so I better do it. This naive, yet effective approach was a major reason it was a success (82% found).
As I think about the projects with high attrition in longitudinal research, I often think their slate is tarnished. They formulate beliefs based on their negative experience and the experiences of others. Their expectations and confidence are low and they may not even try again. This is an unfortunate situation.
You need a clean slate. It is doable, on a mass, systematic level. As long as people are out there, you can find them.