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of some general directions that may be useful, particularly in terms of rethinking the broad outline of the CAPI survey design process.
Establish an Architecture and Standards
In his remarks, Jesse Poore emphasized the importance of a “product line architecture” in structuring large, ongoing software projects. A product line architecture is a product development strategy, a plan under which the major elements of a larger product are identified. Some elements are cross-cutting across various parts of the design process, while others are more limited in scope. This architecture then becomes a living document; it can be reviewed over the years and altered as necessary, but it endures as an organizational guide.
The major benefits of thinking in terms of an overarching product line architecture are twofold. First, it begins to scale back the overall difficulty of the task by emphasizing its modular nature. By dividing a large and complex task into more easily approachable pieces, implementing changes in parts of the process can be eased. Second, it emphasizes standards and the common features of product releases. A product line architecture defines elements that are common to all product releases as well as permissible points of variation. Having resolved the task of producing a product (e.g., a cellular phone) into modular (and to some extent common) pieces, the task of constructing a new version of the product is one of making selected changes in some parts—but not necessarily all parts, nor all at once. Hence, a new cellular phone will build from a substantial base of established work, and development of new features will have been fairly contained and manageable.
Poore provides a prototype product line architecture for the production of a CAPI instrument; it is shown in Figure I-3. What this architecture illustrates is, for instance, that security is a concern that cross-cuts all the stages of instrument development but that should be separable, in the sense that security protocols could be a common feature to multiple surveys. Accordingly, security mechanisms could be developed separately (allowing, of course, for inputs and outputs in each stage of instrument development) and need not be reinvented for each questionnaire development project. Likewise, the mechanics of statistical operations embedded in survey code could be considered another cross-cutting yet separable layer. This hypothetical product line architecture is, as Poore notes, purely illustrative, and the degree to which it is correct or needs refinement awaits future work. But the idea of developing a product line architecture in the survey context has definite merit, chiefly because it would stimulate development of standards within individual survey organizations and across the survey community as a whole.