The Secrets of Survey Success

Meeting Community Needs and Measuring Impact through Well-Designed Surveys

Ahniwa Ferrari /

Surveys are often the tool of choice when you want to determine how to meet the needs of your community or measure your library's impact. But do you know how to use the tool effectively? Choosing the right survey style for the situation and knowing which question type will elicit the best responses are critical elements for gathering meaningful information.

In the February 4 webinar, Library Surveys for Success, Colleen Eggett joined us from the Utah State Library to share her expertise in research design and her experience in running surveys.

Colleen explained that surveys are great tools for determining how to meet needs of community or measure library's impact. Surveys help libraries make informed or good decisions and are great for short answers, for identifying issues, evaluating programs, getting input from many people, and collecting quantitative data. Choosing the right survey style for your situation and knowing which question types to ask are very important for good survey results.

When building a survey, it was recommended that you start with a clearly defined goal, and that you write that goal down. Colleen outlined four steps or questions to ask to help in determining that goal:

  1. Why are we conducting this survey?
  2. What do we want to know?
  3. How will we use this info?
  4. Keep your goal focused and specific.

Once you've defined the goal, you want to prepare questions to match that goal. If you can't determine how the information you gather will be used, consider not asking the question. Have clear questions and answers. Colleen had a lot of advice to help design effective surveys, including:

Divide your questions into three groups. Must know, useful to know, and nice to know. At the end of the day, focus on #1 and get rid of the rest. Why? The more data you get the more work you will have to do to analyze it. If the information is not useful, then don't waste their time answering and don't waste your time having to analyze the data. Also don't ask questions that have a super obvious answer.

Clearly outline what information you need. At the end of the process, what data do you hope that you will have? What will you do with the information, who will see it, and how much detail will they want? Who is going to receive the results of the survey? How much time is available to you to analyze the results? How will you code the information that you receive? How will respondents benefit from the results of the survey?

Along with all the great advice and tips from Colleen, chat participation in the webinar was also very active, and viewers were contributing their own helpful ideas. For instance, Megan Effers suggested this when considering whether to have online or paper surveys:

"It may be easier to advertise paper surveys than to advertise web options. Especially if your web site isn't getting much traffic."

Other viewers had suggestions on the best ways to distribute paper surveys, including:

"To catch users, we handed paper copies to each person who walked in the door--labor and time-intensive, but more effective than sending an email to student email they never used." Judy Carey Nevin

"We distributed a survey at the local Hospital Health Fair for Seniors because that was our target group." Debbie Rusk

Even if you think you have nothing new to learn about survey design, this webinar might surprise you. Check out the webinar archive page to see slides, a chat transcript, additional links, and, of course, the an archived version of the webinar to view when you have time.

[Images via iStock | Thinkstock]