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Qualitative follow-up interviews with participants from the Gambling Survey Experimental Phase

We have refined new survey questions aimed at collecting better data on the experience of gambling-related harms in the upcoming Gambling Survey for Great Britain.

Limitations and recommendations

Limitations of the research

Interviews were reliant on participants’ ability to recall their experiences at the time of completing the survey, which may have been up to 10 months prior to fieldwork. This was a particular risk when we were asking about ‘occasional’ impacts which could be fairly minor in participant’s lives and potentially more challenging to recall. Although in general participants were able to think back to the time of completing the survey, some participants found it difficult to remember the reasons they answered survey questions in a certain way, which limited data collection.

This was particularly the case where participants had a long (and fluctuating) history of experiencing gambling-related harms. Social desirability concerns may also have influenced participants’ responses. However, steps were taken during interviews to reassure participants that the interview was an open and non-judgemental space (for example, interviewers responding neutrally, emphasising that there were no right or wrong answers and reassuring participants that responses were confidential).

Due to recruitment and time constraints, our achieved sample had a higher proportion of men (13 participants) compared to women (3 participants) and those who were White British or White other (12 participants) or Asian British or Asian other (4 participants) compared to other ethnic groups. Research shows that gambling harms vary between different demographic groups and harm can particularly impact those who are marginalised in multiple ways. These varied experiences may therefore have been less well represented in this research.

Measuring gambling harms

In general, participants reported that their experience completing the survey was positive. Participants appreciated the option to complete the survey online or on paper and felt that questions were self-explanatory and understandable. Participants felt the harms questions using the four-point scale (‘never’, ‘occasionally’, ‘fairly often’, ‘very often’) were clear and they generally felt able to distinguish between the categories and place their experience in one category (based on their own definitions of each category). This research has led to our recommendations.

Analysis and interpretation of the survey data

As set out in the introduction to this report, gambling-related harms are defined as the adverse impacts from gambling on the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, communities and society. This research demonstrates the following points, which should inform analysis and interpretation of the survey data.

Participants tended to feel that experience of an ‘occasional’ harm was negative or adverse in some way, even where they felt the impacts were very minimal. Therefore, in line with the definition, it is clear that the ‘occasional’ response is capturing gambling-related harms. The exception to this is that when discussing reducing spending on everyday items which could be regarded as non-essential (for example, costs associated with regular socialising or takeaway coffees), some participants described the impacts in terms such as “not significant”.

In these cases, it is arguable that the 'occasional' response is not capturing gambling-related harms because there is no real adverse impact. It should be acknowledged that ‘occasional’ responses tend to involve some degree of harm. However, there are exceptions (which may only relate to reducing spending on non-essential items), where ‘occasional’ experiences do not involve negative impact.

The adverse impacts experienced by participants ranged from feeling "annoyed" or "frustrated" to more significant effects including anxiety and cutting back on daily essentials. When presenting the data, it will be important to note that ‘occasional’ harms capture a range of adverse impacts, with some being very minimal while others are more severe.

In some cases, participants were clear that ‘occasional’ experience of a harm was less impactful than a harm experienced ‘fairly or very often’. However, in other cases participants explained that the distinction between their ‘occasional’ and more frequent harms captured only the frequency of the harm rather than the impact. Harms which occur ‘occasionally’ can have more significant and long-term impacts if they level of harm is particularly high (for example, irregular loaning of large amounts of money or consistently concealing gambling behaviours through ‘occasional’ dishonesty).

When presenting the data, it will be important to note the distinction between frequency and impact. This research demonstrates that while many ‘occasional’ experiences of harm will be less serious than more frequent experience, this is not always the case.

Future quantitative research

A number of wider factors also impacted participants’ decisions to select the response ‘occasionally’, including previous experience of gambling-related harms and proximity to harm. This variety of experiences should be acknowledged when presenting data on ‘occasional’ harms. If more detailed and/or specific quantitative data collection is considered helpful for future surveys, the following could be considered:

This research has demonstrated that ‘occasional’ harms cover a range of frequencies. Another option could be added (such as ‘rarely’) to differentiate very infrequent experiences from harms occurring with more regularity. This may be particularly helpful to pick up impacts related to infrequent events (such as the impacts of gambling once a year at the Grand National).

It would also be possible to use specific defined frequencies in harms questions. However, this would require further detailed consideration as it is clear from this research that experience of harms often fluctuates throughout the year and therefore responses such as ‘weekly’ or ‘monthly’ will not resonate with all participants.

This research has also demonstrated that there is not always a direct relationship between frequency and impacts of harm. Additional measures could be included in the survey to capture the impacts of different frequencies of harms. This could include questions which ask survey respondents to rate the impacts that a particular harm has had on their life (using a defined scale).

Participants also suggested the possibility of incorporating more measurements of wellbeing and/or emotions (for example, anxiety, frustration or anger) as a way to more fully understand the direct and long-term impacts of gambling-related harms.

Any changes to answer categories would need to be tested experimentally on the main stage of the survey. In particular, the questions to answer would be:

  • does any refined answer scale give improved quality data compared with the previous four-point answer scale tested earlier this year?
  • how do rates of “endorsement” compare between those who answer a new answer scale and those who answered the four-point answer scale?
  • what associations are there between endorsement of these harms questions and known correlates of gambling harms using any new scale? Do we see any improvement compared to the four-point scale tested earlier this year?

Future qualitative research

Reflecting on their own experiences, participants described the impacts of gambling-related harms as difficult to measure. This was because harms were interrelated, often long-term and it could be hard to disentangle impacts related to gambling and other causes. This emphasises the importance of continued qualitative research to support interpretation (and give depth to) quantitative findings about gambling-related harms.

Minimising the time period between survey collection and follow-up interviews would aid this process, to help with participant recall. More interactive forms of qualitative research, such as diary studies or use of visual aids could also help participants to make connections between different impacts of gambling and discuss how these come together in their lived experience. It will also be important that qualitative research includes people with a range of backgrounds and experiences (taking into account factors such as gender, ethnicity and sexuality). This will enable better understanding of how experiences of gambling harm may differ for minority groups and/or those who are marginalised in multiple ways.

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Qualitative GSGB Experimental Statistics Phase: Interrelation of different harms due to gambling
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