August Net2 Think Tank Round-up: Conducting Community Surveys

Claire Sale's picture

Net2 Think Tank LogoAs changemakers in our communities, it's important to take the time to learn from the communities that we serve about their impressions of our services. Whether your community is of volunteers, members of the public, internal stakeholders, or international organizations, it is valuable to ask them what they think of your work and invite them to help shape the future of your programs. For this month's Net2 Think Tank, we asked you to share your tips and examples from surveying your community! Below, read the round-up of the responses we received. 


Topic: What are your tips for creating community surveys? What types of questions are valuable? What distribution tools are available? What are the best ways to use community surveys to inspire a positive change to services? And, if you have an example of your own community survey, please share that too!



While this month's Net2 Think Tank is now closed, you're always welcome to add your feedback on the subject. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section at the bottom of this page.


Best Practices and Tips for Creating and Distributing Community Surveys

Step one: Preparing for your survey

  • Understand the value of community surveys. For one, they can help you with data tracking and measuring success: 
    Beth Kanter refers to surveys as "one of the best ever social media measurement tools". She goes on to say, "Surveys can help get data to form a baseline, benchmark, or inform strategy.  Surveys can also provide useful data to track progress along the way." - Advice from Beth Kanter in Are You Using the Best Ever Social Media Analytics Tool?
  • Have a clear goal before you publish your survey:
    "To help make your survey a success, it is important to identify a few key areas. Perhaps the most important area is identify your primary focus. What do you hope to achieve or what question will you answer through querying your community with a survey?" - Tip from Vanessa Rhinesmith in Conducting Community Surveys To Learn About App Use
  • Ensure that key stakeholders are involved in the survey's creation right from the start:
    "The best survey would be one that is created with community input. Otherwise it is likely that that survey may not be relevant (culturally or otherwise) to the community. There should be key community stakeholders who are consulted when creating surveys." - Tip from Miriam Bernstein on Linkedin

Step two: Creating your survey

  • Mix up the types of questions:
    "Our surveys are always a combination of multiple choice and free-form response, so that those who like to expand, can expand, and those who want to spend a couple minutes responding can do so." - Sarah Washburn's reply to the Think Tank

    "Beyond asking the question that you really want answered (an assessment of an event, what kind of services a client finds the most valuable, rating their experience, etc.) there are a lot of other questions I've found important such as demographics, how they were referred to this service/organization, would they recommend it (and why or why not), how often they are involved- and its important to ask people to explain their answer and provide a comment box at the end. Open ended questions are important because they provide insight to something you have may not even thought to address in a close ended, multiple choice question." - Tip from Amanda Ward on Linkedin

  • Keep your surveys short and frequent:
    "Librarians are surveyed a lot. At TechSoup for Libraries, we rely on our audience--librarians--to help us shape programs that impact their services and technology. But we also know librarians are very busy folk. So how do we learn from librarians without badgering them? Well, we do many things, and one of them is a monthly survey. Our surveys are short. Really short. Like 2 questions short. This means that we think hard about what we're asking, which means we first think hard about what we need to learn." - Sarah Washburn's reply to the Think Tank
  • Give respondents a way to continue to be involved in decision-making after the survey is over:
    "The last question will be an optional one that if answered will provide great value, but will also require a bit more time and thought on the part of the contributor. We made it optional, because we don't want this to deter people from completing the survey. You can pose a mixture of question types to get at a variety of information and to offer a question mix that is appealing to the community you are surveying." - Tip from Vanessa Rhinesmith in Conducting Community Surveys To Learn About App Use
  • Provide opt-ins, opt-outs, and incentives:
    "We also always ask if we can contact folks to learn more from them--opting out is easy--and we always send a prize to one lucky winner. Why do we send a prize? Because we appreciate each answer we receive, and it's worth the investment to thank one librarian a month with a hand-written note and a gift."  - Sarah Washburn's reply to the Think Tank
  • Proof/pilot your survey before releasing it to the entire community:
    "The best surveys are ones that help interaction, get into the community and listening to people, have space on the forms for additional issues that people want to tell you about, pilot some of the surveys with people in communities before you go with a final draft... get someone to proof read them and get a group of people together to get out there and listen to real every day folks." - Tip from Scott Duncan on Linkedin
  • Ensure you are measuring what you think you're measuring: 
    "While community input is important, consulting the literature is even more important to the validity of your question. As community input is pointless if the questions are not valid and do not measure what you tkink you are measuring." Tip from Peter Cassino on Linkedin

Step three: Choosing an (online) survey tool 

Step four: Survey outreach and promotion

  • Post your survey to all of the channels that will reach your audience.
    "We usually use SurveyMonkey for our surveys, and then distribute them further by posting them on a blog and through email distribution by iContact, which allows a limited free version." - Tip from Amanda Ward on Linkedin
  • Promote your survey at your events:
    "Another good idea is to make an announcement at any in-person meet-ups or events you maybe organizing or attending to increase survey completion. Nothing beats adding word-of-mouth to the distribution mix."  - Tip from Vanessa Rhinesmith in Conducting Community Surveys To Learn About App Use
  • Share your survey offline to ensure your entire community is captured:
    "It is important that surveys are administered in various ways so that people who may have greater access to technology are not privileged. Thus, surveys would need to be possibly emailed, telephoned, and even done door-to-door." - Tip from Miriam Bernstein on Linkedin
  • Survey Twitter followers to ask about how they want the organization to tweet:
    "I stumbled across [an] online survey from the Birmingham Museum asking its Twitter followers what content they prefer and whose voice from the institution they’d like to hear. I love this question – one that every organization that is trying to encourage more internal participation from staff should ask on a survey" - Beth Kanter in Are You Using the Best Ever Social Media Analytics Tool?
  • Ask a simple question on Facebook to get great qualitative feedback. Here's an example of a quick Facebook poll from Beth Kanter's page.

Step five: After your survey has been completed

  • Announce your survey results publicly and summarize what you think the findings mean. Give your community an opportunity to clarify and learn what other people think of your services. Here's a great example of announcing survey results from the NetSquared group in Vancouver. 
  • Encourage others to use your survey questions with their own communities! Awhile ago, Amy Sample Ward surveyed her community in London to see how they wanted NetSquared Local events to be run. After sharing the survey with the community locally, she shared her survey questions with other local community organizers globally so that they could use/adapt the questions in their own communities. Here's the survey, which you're welcome to adapt for your purposes. 


Post About Your Survey, Tip or Best Practice!

What did we miss? While this month's Net2 Think Tank is now closed, you're always welcome to add your feedback on the subject. Feel free to add your ideas in the comments section at the bottom of this page.



Thank you to all of our contributors this month! 



About Net2 Think Tank:

Net2 Think Tank is a monthly blogging/social networking event open to anyone and is a great way to participate in an exchange of ideas.  We post a question or topic to the NetSquared community and participants submit responses either on their own blogs, the NetSquared Community Blog, or using social media.  Tag your post with "net2thinktank" and email a link to us to be included. At the end of the month, the entries get pulled together in the Net2 Think Tank Round-Up.