Author: Patrick Parnaby
Avoiding survey pitfalls can help ensure success.
Whenever possible, keep your survey simple. Long, complicated surveys often cause participants to give up. If you need more detailed information, consider using two different surveys. One can be a simple overview of the content you need to evaluate and can be widely distributed. The other can be longer and more detailed while having a more limited distribution. It may be necessary to offer your participants incentives or compensation to complete the longer survey.
In many cases, providing an appropriate incentive will generate the number of responses you need for an effective evaluation. In determining what type of incentive to offer, know that it should be significant to the specific person or group and that not all incentives work for everyone. There are two effective types of incentives used to help build a good response base: intrinsic incentives and extrinsic incentives.
Intrinsic incentives trigger a personal response that motivates the individual participant to become involved. Intrinsic motivation tends to be much stronger than extrinsic motivation because it personally connects an individual to a behavior.
To stimulate an intrinsic response, target your incentives to what drives a particular person to succeed. Examples of intrinsic incentives vary, but might include instilling a sense of personal accomplishment for completing a task that the individual might not have been able to complete on his or her own and then sharing that ability with others. For example, if a person succeeds in losing weight, he or she may be encouraged to share his or her expertise with others through participation in the evaluation process and, therefore, the survey. Participation is encouraged as an altruistic response to what is needed for the team in a sense of solidarity.
Extrinsic incentives are incentives that work because they provide a reward for performing a specific behavior. While extrinsic rewards are not as effective for long-term behavioral change, they can be extremely effective for getting short-term results, such as participation in a survey. Extrinsic incentives are easy to offer because they can be as simple as offering an extra half-hour on participants’ lunch breaks or offering a small financial incentive. You might even offer a participant a benefit for which they would normally have to pay, such as free professional health advice in return for filling out a health survey.
Some participants don’t respond to surveys that request personal information. Take precautions to protect respondents’ privacy when you are asking for legally protected or sensitive information. Communicate these measures to your participants and inform them when surveys are anonymous. If you decide to use traditional paper surveys, make sure all details pertaining to confidentiality are outlined in an accompanying letter or on the front of the survey. When administering online surveys, data can be easily encrypted to provide necessary anonymity.
Timing is Everything
The timing of a survey affects the results you receive in terms of pre- or post-implementation data. If you wait too long after the program to survey your participants, they may not remember the program in enough detail to provide accurate information. If you are trying to determine whether participants experienced lasting effects from the program, testing too soon could be problematic. Also, keep in mind that the further out from the program you survey, the more likely it is that your participants’ knowledge will be contaminated by other factors. For example, if a person takes a course on lung cancer prevention, then goes home and reads a book on a related topic, he or she might be better informed than if he or she relied on program content alone. Your results may show, incorrectly, a highly educated participant and, therefore, a highly effective program.