Process 3: Conducting Community Surveys
After last month’s post, you should now have a Steering Committee in place. Have you hosted your first committee meeting yet? Let us know on our Facebook Group!
Once your committee has met, start making use of the resources they provide. That is, tap into their knowledge and connection to the community at-large and their representative community subsets (elders, youth, students, staff, veterans, and so on). Do this through one initial step in the project development process: have the committee members assist with defining problems or areas of improvement that the community wants to address.
Conducting a survey is a starting point for getting that information from community members. Well-developed surveys can provide information on community priorities and concerns. Your steering committee will be a valuable resource in putting the survey together and suggesting strategies for its distribution. Committee members can also encourage the community to return surveys, using their connections to promote survey completion and submission.
Surveys ask a group of people a uniform set of questions. Answers to these questions help you and your committee to understand what the community wants to see changed or improved. They also can identify long-term goals that the community wants to see accomplished as a result of those changes. Surveys can be either open-ended questions:
- “What do you believe to be the community’s ideal condition or long-term community goal?”
- “List the three most serious problems facing our community today:”
- “What do you think is the most pressing issue for our community?”
- “Do you experience any problems on a daily basis that may also affect other community members?”
Or, closed-ended questions:
- “Choose the three most serious problems facing our community today from the following list:”
- “Of the following areas of improvement, which is of most concern to you?”
- “Do you feel that the issue described above affects you personally? Yes or No?”
- “Rate the following on a scale of 1 to 10.”
It is recommended that surveys include both open- and closed-ended questions so that individual input can be considered. And be sure to plan for time to distribute, collect, and analyze the surveys. The survey process can be as short as two weeks and as drawn out as 2 or 3 months. So get started – the sooner, the better!
Advantages of survey research are:
- Can be distributed to a random sampling of the community
- Results are statistically more reliable than other processes
- Areas of high and low community support can be easily determined
- Relatively low costs for implementation
- Gives guidance to best action to take
Disadvantages of survey research are:
- Difficulty in getting returns of surveys (consider an incentive to increase the likelihood of surveys being returned, such as prize drawings for those who participated)
- Community members may resent surveys
- Wording of questions need to be carefully reviewed to ensure clarity
- If you have not held your first meeting with your steering committee, now is the time to do so!
- Discuss with your steering committee if a community survey is right for you:
- Should you do a community survey?
- In most cases, your answer will be yes! Community surveys can bring community opinion to light.
- How will you reach community members?
- Paper surveys are simple and can reach many different people, but may be difficult to distribute and collect. Consider passing these out at community gatherings or in concentrated areas like at elder centers or health centers.
- Electronic surveys through platforms like Google, Surveymonkey, and many others are free and easy. They can reach many people, so long as they have access to internet. Consider sending these to your organization’s listserv, social media, and your committee members’ family and friends. Have survey takers share the link with others in the community.
- Telephone surveys may be quick and easy, but they are not anonymous! Keep this in mind if you are collecting sensitive information. If your survey is a quick 2 or 3 questions, this might be the fastest way to get answers.
- What information do you want to know?
- What questions will you ask?
- Keep surveys short, sweet and to the point!
- Who will review the data collected?
- Electronic surveys tally results for you, but other methods may need someone to put a spreadsheet together.
- Should you do a community survey?
- Send out, collect and analyze your survey!!