Thinning Measurement Models and Questionnaire Design

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 24 (NIPS 2011)

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Ricardo Silva


Inferring key unobservable features of individuals is an important task in the applied sciences. In particular, an important source of data in fields such as marketing, social sciences and medicine is questionnaires: answers in such questionnaires are noisy measures of target unobserved features. While comprehensive surveys help to better estimate the latent variables of interest, aiming at a high number of questions comes at a price: refusal to participate in surveys can go up, as well as the rate of missing data; quality of answers can decline; costs associated with applying such questionnaires can also increase. In this paper, we cast the problem of refining existing models for questionnaire data as follows: solve a constrained optimization problem of preserving the maximum amount of information found in a latent variable model using only a subset of existing questions. The goal is to find an optimal subset of a given size. For that, we first define an information theoretical measure for quantifying the quality of a reduced questionnaire. Three different approximate inference methods are introduced to solve this problem. Comparisons against a simple but powerful heuristic are presented.