AEA365 | A Tip-a-Day by and for Evaluators

Dec/11

18

Rakesh Mohan and Amy Lorenzo on the Usefulness of Paper Surveys

Greetings from beautiful Boise! We are Rakesh Mohan and Amy Lorenzo of Idaho’s legislative Office of Performance Evaluations. For the past six years, our office has been conducting surveys solely in an electronic environment. This approach has worked so well that we have all but abandoned the use of paper surveys. When we looked at costs, both in postage and manpower, paper surveys just didn’t make sense any more. That is, until this year.

As part of our current study of barriers to postsecondary education, we sought input from members of the Idaho School Counselor Association. Initially we thought of contacting them via e-mail and requesting them to complete a web-based survey. However, once we learned that they would be participating in a statewide conference in our town, we decided to brief them about our study at the conference and asked them to complete a paper survey and turn in their completed surveys at the conference registration table. The response was phenomenal!

Over the next 30 minutes, attendees answered our survey questions, chatted with us about our study, and offered to meet with us again in the future. By the end of the conference, we had received over 70 surveys, a response rate of nearly 50 percent. In a couple of hours, we had accomplished what normally takes us several weeks to achieve. We were able to close out the survey and begin our analysis the same day we distributed it.

Hot Tips: Why did this approach work so well? In the spirit of full disclosure, we should note that attendees were offered an extra raffle ticket for turning in a survey. However, that was really just one small piece of the equation. What really made this process a success was twofold.

  1. Conference attendees were a captive audience. By asking them to complete the survey while at the conference, we were no longer competing with their other professional and personal demands. Our e-mail wasn’t lost in their in-boxes or pushed to the back burner until they had free time. Attendees had the time, in that moment, to collect their thoughts and answer our questions.
  2. We made a personal connection with our target audience. By explaining to them how important their input was to our study, distributing our survey in person, and making ourselves available for questions, we overcame the often impersonal nature of a web-based survey.

We recognize that this approach is more the exception than the rule. With decreased budgets and increased workloads, paper surveys rarely make sense. But in certain circumstances, they can be a powerful tool for involving stakeholders.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators

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