3 Strategies for Survey Success

How many surveys have passed through your inbox in the past year? Personally, I’m invited to respond to at least one a month; for example, event feedback surveys, COVID vaccine side effect monitoring surveys, shopping feedback surveys, or university students doing thesis research who need data from my demographic. There is a hunger for data in the world these days. This isn’t a bad thing – from my perspective, the movement toward data-informed decision making is something to celebrate! However, all of this data gathering has people either feeling  survey fatigue (they’ve been asked one too many times to complete a survey and have no energy or time left to give) or feeling suspicious (what will my data be used for? Who’s asking? I don’t share personal information with strangers online.)   

As evaluators, we rely on surveys as a tool in our methods toolbox. Survey data can be an efficient and effective way to assess things like organizational consensus for strategic planning, community needs assessments, feedback on new programs or training, and program impacts. When we throw our resources (or our clients’ resources) into a survey intended to answer evaluation questions, we need that survey to yield strong data. Over the years we have learned some tips to make surveys more efficient, effective, and successful:

  • Keep it short and sweet by only asking what you need to know. To keep surveys operating at maximum efficiency, we recommend aligning survey design with an evaluation framework to ensure that each question is designed to inform a specific indicator or outcome. For example, an organization may be interested to know if participants feel that program staff are welcoming and friendly. This information could be assessed easily in a survey, but if this “welcoming and friendly staff” indicator was not explicitly included in an evaluation framework or captured in the organization’s Theory of Change, including such a question may not be the most efficient use of survey space or respondents’ time. 
  • Promote your survey in advance to generate buy-in, especially if it will require significant time or input from respondents. Depending on the context, here are some promotion strategies that could be employed:
    • Host a town hall where potential survey participants are informed about the upcoming survey and why it is important
    • Put together a working group to help generate buy-in and to disseminate the survey (especially applicable where a smaller number of people within a community or organization are well connected to the target sample of participants)
    • Talk about the upcoming survey throughout a program that engages the potential participants (e.g., if evaluating a program with a post-program survey, ensure the participants know it is coming and why it is important). Similarly, build these kinds of surveys into programs by asking participants to complete it while you still have them in the room (or virtual room).
    • Think carefully about the invitation.  People are more likely to respond when the invitation comes from someone they know and trust, and when it feels personal. 
  • Compensate people for their time. There is an ethical as well as practical reason for compensating people for completing surveys. Since evaluators and organizations are benefitting from the data people provide in surveys, we should not expect to get individuals’ data for free. In some cases the population being surveyed is paid staff of an organization or program, and doing the survey falls under the purview of what they are already paid to do. In other cases, compensation should be built into evaluation budgets. Paying people for their time (or giving them a chance to win something for their time) also motivates people to respond to a survey when they most likely feel they have better things to do! There are many forms of compensation that can be used to incentivize surveys. Some of our favourites are:
    • Anycard gift card (https://www.anycard.ca/)
    • Cash or e-transfer (we’ve seen incentives range from $10 to $50 for a 10 minute survey; amount largely depends on the expectations of the survey participants and the funding you have available for incentives)
    • Entry into a draw for a larger cash prize (don’t forget to collect contact information from participants and don’t forget to run the draw when the survey closes!)

We hope that these tips bring you success in getting the data you need to inform your organizational and programmatic decision-making! 

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