Researchers attempting to follow refugees over time face a number of challenges due to the transient nature of this population. In light of these difficulties, we explore the use of smartphone technology for data collection among refugees in Germany. We combine passive mobile data collection, i.e. the automatic collection of smartphone data about an individual’s behavior, with active mobile web surveys. While passive mobile data collection is still a relatively unexplored method, this approach allows for collecting richer and potentially more accurate data then self-reports from surveys. However, whether people in general and refugees in particular are able and willing to participate in such studies has not been examined yet.
In this project, we therefore focus on the fundamental issues of participation rates, self-selection, and whether monetary incentives are helpful in this environment. To this end, we first conducted personal interviews with about 530 refugees in Germany. Participants were then invited via email or WhatsApp message to four follow-up web surveys about different aspects of their integration. In addition, participants were asked to download a research app to their smartphones for passive mobile data collection. We examine the effect of monetary incentives by randomly offering half of them a compensation of 30 Euros.
Our findings highlight two different trajectories: While the response rate in the first survey was 29%, we experienced a large decrease in the willingness to continue participation, ending up with only 9% in the fourth survey. By contrast, the participants were very skeptical towards installing the research app, with only 7% completing the process and agreeing to its functions, but we do not see any defection afterwards. Additionally, we show that monetary incentives possess a small, but statistically insignificant positive effect on participation.