Surveys are a method used to collect information from a specific population, usually a large sample that is representative of the larger group you are trying to working with or understand. Surveys are used to gauge the level of public information about an issue and provide a snapshot of attitudes and ideas at a particular time. Surveys can be used to collect broad general information from or about a large audience or specific information from targeted groups. Surveys can seek information that can be quantitative (facts and figures) and/or qualitative (opinions and values). Surveys can use questionnaires to collect information, which can be delivered through written forms, telephone surveys, or electronic surveys.
Surveys are designed to collect information from community groups in relation to a particular issue or project. The results of the surveys provide information about the demographics and/or opinions of a specific group of people. This information can permit you and other decision-makers to make better-informed decisions or to better inform the community in relation to an issue or proposal.
- Provides input from a wide range of stakeholders.
- Allows respondents to provide more depth of information than may be possible at a public meeting.
- Less time consuming than focus groups or other face-to-face methods.
- People may be more open and honest in an anonymous survey.
- Allows you to engage people who are less comfortable speaking in public meetings or who are unable to attend events.
Challenges to Consider
- Care must be taken that wording of questions is unambiguous and not leading to prevent skewed results.
- Care is needed in sampling to make sure representative samples are taken.
- Response rates can sometimes be low and difficult to raise.
- Anonymous responses cannot be followed up on for clarification or more information.
Principles for Successful Planning
- Find out what is already known, and what relevant surveys are being done or planned elsewhere in your department and other departments. This will avoid duplication, and will help establish what you need to find out from your survey.
- Preliminary interviews or conversations with stakeholders can help to develop the general topics and questions for the survey.
- Provide clear instructions for taking and submitting the survey.
- If using an online survey instrument, such as Survey Monkey, have the option to complete paper forms for those that do not have internet access.
- Create an outreach plan that includes how the survey will be distributed, when and how reminders will be sent, what incentives (if any) you will be providing, and which groups or populations you need to target.
- Meet groups where they are by handing out surveys at their regular meetings or providing a drop-off location in their community.
- If passing out a survey during an event or public meeting, encourage people to hand in their responses before they leave. People often forget to hand in surveys after the fact.
- Pilot the survey with coworkers or a small sample of stakeholders to ensure that there are no spelling or grammatical errors, the questions are clear, and the responses elicited are addressing what you want to know.
- Include information on the survey regarding ways for the public to get involved further and learn more about the project, such as upcoming meetings and the department or project website.
- After responses are collected, provide a summary of results and an explanation of how input was incorporated. This could take the form of a report or a handout to be distributed at a public meeting or posted online.
- Staff are needed to write and pilot survey questions, distribute and collect responses, send reminders, and analyze results.
- Interpreters, if necessary, to translate the survey and responses.
- For paper surveys: printouts, postcards, return address envelopes, and drop-off locations.
- Pens and pencils if distributing at a meeting.
- Online survey website, such as Survey Monkey or Google Forms.
- One to two months to draft questions, pilot the survey, and create an outreach plan.
- Several weeks to a month to distribute and collect response, maybe longer if the response rate is low.
- Several weeks to analyze and summarize the results.