Dillman to discuss survey methodology, rural America at M.E. John Lecture

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A social scientist renowned for his research in survey methodology will present the 2019 M.E. John Lecture, sponsored by the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Don Dillman, Regents Professor in the Department of Sociology and deputy director for research and development in the Social and Economic Sciences Research Center at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, will speak at 2 p.m. on April 10 in 233AB Hetzel Union Building on the University Park campus.

"Dr. Dillman is widely regarded around the globe for his groundbreaking work in survey science, and we are pleased to have him return to campus and give what we know will be an outstanding presentation," said Laszlo Kulcsar, head of the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, who added that the lecture will be of interest to a wide range of social scientists.

Don Dillman will present the 2019 M.E. John Lecture, sponsored by the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. Credit: Washington State UniversityAll Rights Reserved.

Dillman's presentation will focus on how methods of collecting survey data have undergone dramatic change. In particular, he will discuss the critical importance of web-push methodologies and how they can improve the quality of data.

This will be Dillman's second time speaking at what has become a signature lecture series; he delivered his first M.E. John lecture in 1984, when he spoke on rural America entering the information age, it having passed through the ages of community control and mass society.

Dillman is recognized as a major contributor to the development of modern mail, telephone and internet survey methods. In 1970, he was founding coordinator of the Social and Economic Sciences Research Center's Public Opinion Laboratory, one of the first university-based telephone survey laboratories in the United States.

His book, "Mail and Telephone Surveys: The Total Design Method," was the first to provide detailed procedures for conducting surveys by these methods and is now in its fourth edition as "Internet, Phone, Mail and Mixed-Mode Surveys, The Tailored Design Method."

In the early 1990s, Dillman served as the senior survey methodologist in the Office of the Director, U.S. Bureau of the Census, where he provided leadership for the development of new questionnaire designs and procedures for the 2000 Decennial Census and other government surveys. This and related work on other federal agency surveys led to his receiving the 2000 Roger Herriot Award for innovation in federal statistics.

Dillman was among the first to systematically apply vision science to derive principles for designing self-administered questionnaires. The resulting practices, including unified mode construction, have become standard data-collection procedures for many official government surveys in the U.S. and other countries. He also is well-known for his efforts to develop effective mixed-mode survey methods.

In 2017, he and his research team received the American Association for Public Opinion Research Warren J. Mitofsky Innovators Award for the creation and testing of a web-push data- collection methodology that is now used worldwide for censuses and other surveys relevant to public policy and innovation in federal statistics.

Speaking on his return to the M.E. Lecture podium, Dillman said, "It was an honor to be asked to give the M.E. John talk in 1984, and I'm excited to be returning. I had the good fortune to meet M.E. and admired his ability to anticipate change. And, for decades I have admired work being done on rural issues by members of the Penn State faculty. I’m looking forward to meeting new contributors to the science associated with understanding rural America."

The M.E. John Lecture was established by the friends and family of the late Macklin E. John in honor of his influential career in Penn State's Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education. John joined Penn State as a professor of rural sociology in 1936 and later took on the assignment of extension specialist in rural sociology. He assumed the department head position in 1947, serving in that position for 22 years. He retired in 1970.

The purpose of the annual M.E. John Seminar Series is to increase understanding of important historical, current, and emerging social science and public policy issues important to rural people and places in Pennsylvania, across the United States, and internationally.

The signature seminar in the series is the M.E. John Lecture, held in the spring of each year since 1981. The three disciplinary clusters of the department (agricultural economics, rural sociology, and agricultural and extension education) take turns identifying and inviting a speaker who gives a public lecture.

More information about the M.E. John Lecture, including past speakers, can be found online at

Last Updated March 28, 2019