02 May, 2023

Quit: Tackling tobacco use in public housing

In October 2022, we transferred the details of 24 public housing residents in the City of Yarra to the Cancer Council, a non-profit organisation working on cancer research, prevention and support. These 24 people met for five in-person sessions from 13 October to 19 November 2022, to discuss how to tackle tobacco use in the areas where they live, helping to develop a program to keep people safe from tobacco use to consider the question:

How can we help make it easier to be safe from tobacco use in our community?

Sortition Foundation was tasked with recruiting these panel members. We worked with Quit, Cancer Council Victoria, VicHealth, and the Victoria State Government, as well as facilitators MosaicLab to achieve this. Below we briefly describe the details of this recruitment process; the process followed a modified version of our two-stage sortition template.

Stage 1

The area that we were selecting from was not very large geographically, and the people that we were aiming to recruit come from a marginalised sector of the public, with disproportionately high numbers of people from migrant and refugee backgrounds, and of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. In general, people in these areas are less likely to register to participate for a variety of reasons, including time and financial poverty; experiences of racism; distrust of authorities; and lack of democratic self-confidence. Thus, in consultation with the client, we decided to engage in a variety of methods to persuade people to register for the process. As usual, we sent out letters to randomly selected addresses within the area; we then followed this up with text messages; and recruited through face-to-face events held in the area. We ended up with only 35 registrations, which is fewer than we would normally expect, but a reasonable result given the target area.

Translation was an important issue for this recruitment. For every registration page, we offer a translation bar to allow potential participants to translate the page, but this translation is less effective for some languages, such as Mandarin and Vietnamese, that don't use Latin characters (as English does). To address this, we included translations of the FAQs for both these languages.

All participants in the panel received AUD300 as a thank you for giving up their time.

Stage 2

As part of the sign-up procedure, all potential participants were required to share some basic information about themselves. We asked them to share their address, their date of birth, their gender, country of birth and whether they identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. We also asked them to describe their smoking status, whether they were a current smoker, a former smoker or if they had never smoked. 

We then used this information as input into a "sortition algorithm"; this is a process of randomly selecting our panel members in such a way that we have a representative sample. As we had a fairly small pool of registrants, we had significant constraints in matching targets, reflected in the charts below. Details of the specific algorithm we use, including information about the fairness of the algorithm, can be found here.

In addition to the information about gender, age, smoking status, country of birth and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander identity mentioned above, we also used the address of each respondent to hit geographic targets.  

Details of the selection process for this assembly are summarised using the following pie charts, with further information following.


The way to understand these pie charts is as follows:

  • Column 1 (Target): These pie charts give information about the population of Wales as a whole, using various publicly available statistics (primarily from the City of Yarra Council). As an example, in the second row, you can see that 9.2% of the target population is over 70. 
  • Column 2 (Respondents): These pie charts summarise the information that was provided to us by the 330 people who signed up as potential participants. 
  • Column 3 (Original Selected): This column gives information about the people who were selected by the algorithm. These people were each contacted individually by phone to confirm their participation. Some people dropped out of the process at this stage, as they had various constraints meaning they could not participate.
  • Column 4 ( Confirmed Selected): These pie charts summarise information about the 24 who were finally confirmed to participate in the panel. Normally, these reflect a move that is closer to Column 1 than it is to Column 2. In this instance, due to the small pool of respondents and uneven drop-out rates, we were less than usual to move towards a representative sample.

This recruitment was challenging from multiple perspectives, but highlighted a few important differences in recruiting from areas where people suffer multiple indices of deprivation, in particular:

a. Face-to-face and personal recruitment is critical to the success of the recruitment.

b. Support from people who are known to the community, and who speak the languages of the target community, can help overcome barriers of trust.

We are continuing to try and learn from experiments such as these, to try and ensure or at least improve equality of representation.

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