The aim of this guide is to outline the process to deliver a successful survey project. The key steps are:
- Planning the survey project
- Designing and piloting the survey
- Getting survey responses
- Analyzing results and developing recommendations
- Presenting results and planning action
A successful survey project depends upon having 1) a robust process and 2) expertise in designing surveys, getting responses, analysing results, presenting results and planning action.
Watch this video for a summary of the steps in a survey project.
Here is a simple process to follow to ensure success.
Step 1: Plan the project
- Agree the scope, survey project objectives and target audience
- Consult with key stakeholders about the survey requirements
- Define the key policies for the project (e.g. anonymity, confidentiality, level of access to results)
- Develop the project plan and timelines
Step 2: Design & pilot the survey & communications
- Develop the survey goals and objectives
- Define the reporting requirements (demographic, target groups, etc.)
- Design the survey and communications
- Pilot the survey and communications and refine. Pilot again in need.
- Obtain survey sign-off
Step 3: Engage respondents and get survey responses
- Set up the project and obtain participant details
- Plan participant engagement strategies
- Distribute surveys and provide support
- Ensure confidentiality and anonymity policies are met
- Follow up surveys to achieve/exceed target response rates
Step 4: Analyze results & develop recommendations
- Analyse results and identify key trends
- Develop recommendations
- Create compelling and focused reports
Step 5: Present results and plan action
- Present results and the Case for Action
- Make decisions and plan action
- Communicate results and plans to key stakeholders
Survey Goals & Objectives
Establishing clear goals and objectives is essential to create a survey that results in valuable data. A goal is an overarching principle or broad statement of the primary aim or outcome. It guides decision making. Objectives are specific and measurable steps to meet the goal. So, start by writing an overall goal and then break it down into objectives. Resist the urge to dive head-first into question writing.
Objectives shape your questions
Once you have specific and measurable objectives, you can start to think about writing questions. The questions need to achieve the objectives. In order to develop the objectives it’s important to make absolutely sure that you are confident about the subject at hand. There are a couple of ways you can do this. One is to consult with experts and another is to do some research before you start writing.
Establish a Steering Committee or talk to a subject matter expert!
Depending on the type of survey you are designing, it can be helpful to talk to a subject matter expert or involve a Steering Committee before you do your own research.
Experts in their fields know about the subtlety in a topic area: The things that can look important but are ultimately distracting. If you have the time and ability to talk to someone in the field, it can save you a lot of time and help you focus your research into the right areas.
The other benefit of talking to a subject-matter expert or a Steering Committee is that they are likely to know what the pitfalls are with certain types of questions, and know what to expect. They can help you to shape your objectives into questions that are really going to work for your survey.
Research the topic
Research your topic before writing questions about it. This can help you uncover answers to certain questions, and help you form questions you would not have considered. Reasearch also represents an opportunity to compare the facts and figures you get from different resources. When facts vary, it is an indication that more research is needed.
Conducting research will help you to craft smart questions for your audience.
Get a survey expert to help
You and your team will be more than capable of creating thought-provoking questions. Even so, it can be beneficial to talk to an experienced researcher or consultant. Someone with strong survey-building experience can help you clarify the type of information you’re seeking and avoid pitfalls. Bringing in a third party adds an objective pair of eyes to the process. They will be able to help you make your objectives more specific, and find out where you might need or want more information.
Objective eyes can spot gaps, weaknesses, and vague objectives that you might otherwise not see.
- Write down your survey goals
- Identify the specific and measurable survey objectives
- Get feedback from survey and subject-matter experts or a Steering Committee
- Research the topic from end to end
- Create your questions
By following these steps, you will make sure that you asking the right questions of the right people – to get good data – every time.
Establish Clear Survey Policies
Clearly defined and communicated polices are essential in a survey project. Policies guide the actions and decisions of those who manage the survey project and also protect the respondents. Policies should be considered for matters such as:
- How anonymous are the responses?
- Who will get to see the responses?
- Who will have access to the data?
- How will any personal information be used?
- Who owns the data?
- How can the data be used in the future?
- How will free text responses be reported (e.g. verbatim)?
- How will anonymity be protected when correlating and filtering responses?
- What are the minimum response numbers to protect anonymity?
- Who is responsible for management of the policies?
Survey policies guide actions
Policies may be necessary to guide internal actions or they may be needed to give comfort to the respondents. Most important is that the policies are clearly communicated to the relevant people in the project. Such communication may need to be explicit, or it may be implicit, depending upon the nature of the policy and its target audience.
Make sure the policies are followed
It is imperative to ensure that the survey policies are communicated and adhered to by those people who have access to the survey project results. Anonymity policies that are communicated to survey respondents give them comfort about who will be able to see their responses. It is imperative to ensure that those survey policies are followed.