Modeling and analysing respondent driven sampling as a counting process

Yakir Berchenko, Jonathan Rosenblatt, Simon DW Frost

Research output: Working paper/PreprintPreprint


Respondent-driven sampling (RDS) is an approach to sampling design and analysis which utilizes the networks of social relationships that connect members of the target population, using chain-referral methods to facilitate sampling. RDS typically leads to biased sampling, favoring participants with many acquaintances. Naive estimates, such as the sample average, which are uncorrected for the sampling bias, will themselves be biased. To compensate for this bias, current methodology suggests inverse-degree weighting, where the "degree" is the number of acquaintances. This stems from the fundamental RDS assumption that the probability of sampling an individual is proportional to their degree. Since this assumption is tenuous at best, we propose to harness the additional information encapsulated in the time of recruitment, into a model-based inference framework for RDS. This information is typically collected by researchers, but ignored. We adapt methods developed for inference in epidemic processes to estimate the population size, degree counts and frequencies. While providing valuable information in themselves, these quantities ultimately serve to debias other estimators, such a disease's prevalence. A fundamental advantage of our approach is that, being model-based, it makes all assumptions of the data-generating process explicit. This enables verification of the assumptions, maximum likelihood estimation, extension with covariates, and model selection. We develop asymptotic theory, proving consistency and asymptotic normality properties. We further compare these estimators to the standard inverse-degree weighting through simulations, and using real-world data. In both cases we find our estimators to outperform current methods. The likelihood problem in the model we present is convex, and thus efficiently solvable. We implement these estimators in an R package, chords, available on CRAN.
Original languageEnglish GB
PublisherarXiv preprint:1304.3505
Number of pages16
StatePublished - 2013


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