WASHINGTON — One key idea floating around the 2022 Association of the U.S. Army conference this year is the service’s across-the-board need to collect, analyze and take action on massive amounts of data, which lies at the core of its new “information advantage doctrine.”

But data doesn’t grow on trees, and according to a RAND corporation expert, soldiers may be tired of helping commands get it.

Researchers say “survey burden” can occur when populations grow tired of overly complex or frequent surveys, and it can reduce the quality or quantity of responses.

In the Army, there’s a survey for everything. Command climates, the quality of new troops, medical treatment facility experiences and the cleanliness of bathrooms at the Post Exchange are all measured through questionnaires that bombard troops and their families.

At a Monday afternoon quality of life forum, an audience member asked RAND senior economist Dr. Heather Krull whether the Army could benefit from “weekly or monthly micro surveys to keep a pulse on the force and proactively identify problems before they become a crisis.”

Krull agreed that the data would be useful, and that RAND “talked to the Army” about the idea. But she added that troops could sour on another survey unless it were well-designed.

“We also know that there’s some ‘survey burden’ [in the force],” said Krull. “Soldiers and their family members are asked to answer a lot of surveys, but I do think [collecting data regularly] — that’s really important for getting ahead of the problem.”

In order to reduce that problem, Krull argued, the Army should look less at “200-question surveys” and consider “five-question surveys or 10-question surveys that people can answer very quickly.”

Since official data on harmful behaviors like sexual assault and suicide have months-long reporting delays, the economist explained, having a flow of real-time data on those topics is likely worth the risk of additional survey burden.

After Krull’s comments, the service’s top medical officer, Lt. Gen. Scott Dingle, chimed in to “plug” the Military Health System survey.

“The [MHS] is very persistent with getting that email to you after you’ve had that appointment...we need that feedback,” Dingle said.

“The response rate is not high,” Dingle added.

Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.

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