Information sharing surveys – are they worth the work?

Nathaniel Aust
Dissemination Coordinator
Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing

At the Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing (the Centre), we are knee deep in a survey which aims to find out what the public sector really thinks about information sharing – which you can complete at our Survey Monkey page  (sorry for the shameless plug).

There’s no argument that the results will be invaluable for our work, giving us a tantalising insight into the thinking of the very people we are trying to influence. But along with ‘we need a Facebook page for that’ or ‘can you just make this look a bit fancier’, the request for a survey (with a target for responses) is one aspect of my job which fills me with terror.

I’m fully aware that the sign of a good communicator is being able to get your voice heard above the crowd, but when that voice is asking (in a loud but friendly tone) “do you have five minutes, in your already busy day, to fill in a short survey?” it can be quite a task.

So, is the chance to look deep into the minds of your audience worth the legwork of encouraging them to take five or ten minutes out of their schedules?

Questions, questions, questions
Firstly you need to know what you’re asking, which isn’t always a communication function, but it’s definitely worth sticking your nose in. If you don’t meddle at this point then you’re at the mercy of trying to promote a survey which doesn’t make sense, doesn’t collect the information needed and will have people pressing the back button well before the end.

Another danger of writing a survey is asking your audience everything you want to know, as opposed to just what you need to know. The trick to a good set of questions is to glean just the information you need, so you can keep the amount of time your audience need to invest to a minimum. This will help with completion rates and allow you to use the hallowed message ‘the survey will only take a few minutes’ (which is normally a lie).

Whose views do you want
If you have direct links to your target audience and the number of people on that list surpasses the number of responses you need – well it’s time to press send, sit back and wait for the responses to come flooding in. But it’s never that easy. Our potential audience at the Centre is massive, basically the public sector. So, our communication plan was an intricate labyrinth of social media, e-newsletters, blogs and (timescale permitting) printed article. Even with this in place, there was still no guarantee that our messages would hit the mark and send the response counter into a frenzy.

It’s important to have an agile plan, which allows changes to be made mid-campaign. If one channel isn’t working what can you do to compensate? Or if one channel has worked too well and you have 60% of your responses from a single sector, how can you manage your plan to focus on other segments to offset this trend?

So, is it worth it?
In my opinion, yes. The chance to get direct insight from your primary audience is too good an opportunity to miss – but it isn’t easy. The many potential survey pitfalls of asking the wrong questions, in the wrong way, to the wrong people mean that surveys shouldn’t be done on a whim. Like every communication activity, you get out of it what you put in.

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