Many campuses invest a lot in survey research. Besides the costs of participating, staff spends considerable time analyzing, reporting and discussing survey results. We hear frequently from users about how important it is to ensure the information you receive from surveys is:
• Accurate and representative
• Useable and meaningful
• Valued on campus

Here are steps to take before launching the survey that will help ensure a successful survey administration:

Know what you’re looking for- How and where can the results be used on campus? Many campuses use survey results for purposes of accreditation and strategic planning, but they can also be used to inform other campus initiatives and departmental improvements. If survey results have a place to go within the structures and processes of an institution, they are more likely to be used and valued, and not left to wither on the shelf.

Build a base of support on campus- People are interested in the results if they know what to do with them. Don’t be afraid to talk with groups on campus about the work you do. Sit down with Faculty committees, IT, Student Affairs, Student Leaders, and any relevant centers or programs (for example the Center for Academic Excellence or Advising) and share with them some of the areas they may find interesting. As a former Director of Assessment, I sometimes would bring paper copies of the instrument with me to meetings and ask the group to circle items they thought were especially relevant to their work or that interested them. The benefit here was twofold: once they started talking about what items were interesting or relevant, they started thinking and engaging with the data, and were looking for me to return with the results for them.

Think ahead about the details- A successful survey administration requires attention to detail. I’m going to devote a later post to the value of a survey administration checklist (and I will share mine!), but for right now, when you register for a survey it’s the perfect time to consider the details of survey administration.

What to Do:

• Read the information sent to you regarding survey administration
• Decide what mode of survey administration you want to use (web survey, paper survey, or both)
• Determine whether you need IRB approval on your campus to administer the survey. If necessary, start that process
• Determine what incentives (if any) will you use
• Do you want to ask any additional institution-specific questions that are not on the survey? If so start that process well in advance to garner support and gain necessary approvals
• Start drafting the text for invitations and reminders

While it may be true that all of these details can be simple, let’s keep Murphy’s Law in mind, know it never is as easy as planned. A survey administration can be undermined by typos in invitation letters, emails winding up in spam folders, or the IRB not acting as anticipated.

Build awareness among students- We hear about campuses using email, articles or interviews or advertisements in the campus newspaper, Facebook, Twitter, and Blackboard to promote survey administrations. Some schools also have success with in-person conversations in specific class meetings and through student government. Don’t underestimate making contact with the student body through the channels that make the most sense to them.

Make plans to communicate the results-
• Link CIRP Constructs, themes, and individual items of interest with mission statements, strategic planning documents and departmental assessment plans
• Meet with key constituencies and committees to update them on the survey timelines, when they can expect results, field any questions, note any topics and issues that come up or resonate across constituencies on campus.
• Communicate with students. If students understand how their responses will be used on campus, they will be more likely to participate and encourage other students to do the same. It’s also a great opportunity to assure students about the confidentiality of survey results.

Next post, I’ll share actions to consider while the survey is in the field.