Five questions to ask before you create your next survey


So you’ve been asked to do a survey for an upcoming consultation and you want to make sure you get it right?

You might even be asking yourself whether a survey is the best thing to do for the consultation in order to get the right feedback.

In this article, we suggest five key questions you should ask yourself before you dive into creating your next survey.

1. What are the objectives of your project?

Creating a survey shouldn’t be your default approach to engaging with your community.

Before you set out to create a new survey, you need to ask yourself and your project team about the objectives of your project.

These should be outlined in your planning process and should be readily available for you to discuss.

Considering your objectives is essential when deciding whether or not to use a survey, quite simply because surveys are not always the best engagement approach.

For instance, if the objective of your engagement is to capture ideas to help you find a solution to a problem, using a survey isn’t going to be the best option to get the job done.

While you can ask a question to capture ideas using a survey, ideation works best when participants can interact with all ideas and contributions and build on them with their own.

If you did use a survey for this, participant contributions would be hidden to all other participants and this could stifle your ability to capture the best ideas.

The same story applies if the objective of your engagement is to build relationships with your community around a sensitive issue.

In this instance, it may be better to conduct a forum or live question and answer session in an open and less controlled environment, in order to show your community that you are committed to building their trust.

This also applies if you are hoping to educate and build capacity with your community.

This is very hard to do through a simple survey and other techniques might be needed in order to achieve these objectives.

Consider your objectives – will a survey work?

2. How much participation do you need to make your decision?

There is a classic anecdote of the local government who conducted a survey on a new bike path.

Because they got little feedback on their survey, they took it as a green light to implement the project.

And guess what? As soon as the path was under construction, the community were up in arms against it and the path was removed at a cost of more than $1 Million to the community.

If you are going to conduct a survey, you need to know how much input you require in order to make your decision.

You need to ask yourself if you are going to be able to reach the right people (strata and sample), if you have enough resources to promote your survey (mail, ads, campaigns) and if you have enough time to collect input.

If you have constraints on any of these things you might be setting yourself up for failure.

Make sure you have enough resources before you begin.

3. How will you analyse your feedback?

This is an important question.

Knowing if you require qualitative or quantitive feedback and how you are going to analyse your feedback is a major consideration before you create your next survey.

There’s no use diving into creating a survey and asking for qualitative feedback, if you don’t have the ability to use that feedback in your reporting.

You should always have a plan in place before you begin your survey about how you are going to use and analyse feedback.

4. Have you surveyed your community recently?

In community engagement, we are sometimes confronted with a phenomenon know survey fatigue.

Survey fatigue can be experienced by communities for various reasons, however it is generally a result of surveying your community too frequently. (Check out our article Avoiding Survey Fatigue)

Saving surveys for the right consultations will ensure that you are not asking too much of your community and that you can maximise the amount of responses you receive.

Your community will also thank you for ensuring that your surveys are well-designed and genuine.

Finding the right window in your consultation schedule is essential!

5. What type of user experience are you trying to create?

User experience is something talked about a lot in the design and software industries but can often be overlooked in the consultation sector especially when it comes to running a survey.

Before you create your next survey, you should consider what experience you are trying to create for your community.

This will help you avoid a plain-old-survey that fails to spark excitement and participation with your community.

There are many alternate activities which can help encourage participation and are also a great way to capture feedback and build capacity with your community.

These include interactive mapping and polling, quizzes and multimedia experiences, forum conversations, ideation tools and even face-to-face activities which encourage creative ways of collecting feedback.

Choosing the right mix of experiences and thinking about the best way to capture feedback from your stakeholders will help you better decide if you need to use a survey.

If you do decide to use a survey remember you always have the ability to insert different types of media such as videos, graphics and embeddable objects, inside your surveys to help bring them to life.

Community engagement is supposed to be engaging so think outside the box!

You’ll be surprised at how many interesting ways you can come up with for collecting feedback which don’t require your use of a survey.

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