Donovan Group Insights

Are You Asking Community Members the Right Questions?

Community member feedback is crucial to the ongoing success of your district. One of the best ways to gather feedback is by inviting them to complete a survey. For community members, completing a survey is very simple. All they have to do is fill in the bubbles and respond to a few open-ended questions. As for district leaders, creating that survey requires a bit more thought and consideration.

It’s not enough to come up with a series of questions. When you create a survey, you have to ask community members the right questions. The types of questions you ask determine how insightful the survey results will be. Asking good questions will give you a better understanding of what community members believe is working well and what needs to change in your district.

Dig below surface-level responses

Community members often need some incentive to fill out a survey. To maximize participation, district leaders often default to surveys that consist entirely of “fill in the bubble” questions. They do this to make the surveys quick and easy to complete. This format can increase the number of respondents, but it may not result in the quality feedback you’re looking for. Anyone can fill out a series of bubbles without putting too much thought into their responses.

You don’t have to do away with multiple-choice questions altogether. But if you want to dig below the surface, you’ll need to include questions that get community members thinking. Ask questions that require community members to put some thought and consideration into their answers. Sure, the survey might take longer to complete, and you might get a smaller number of respondents, but the stakeholders who really want to make a difference are willing to take the time to complete it. When you want feedback, quality is far more important than quantity.

To get quality data, your community members survey should include open-ended questions. Try to ask questions that go beyond, “How else can we improve the district?” Ask community members for their opinions about curriculum and policies that are often brought up at board meetings. Address hot-button topics that have been circulating in the school community. When stakeholders are passionate about a subject, they’re often willing to speak at length about it. This is the high level of engagement you want to achieve with your stakeholder surveys.

Discover the “why” behind their answers

Quality feedback involves more than asking community members if they agree or disagree with a statement. You want to know why they agree or disagree with that statement. Again, multiple-choice questions only scratch the surface of stakeholders’ thoughts and opinions. You have to ask questions that dive into why they gave the answers that they did. Asking “why?” allows stakeholders to speak candidly about their wants and needs. By doing so, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of what changes they want to see in their district.

You can more easily dive into the “why” by following each multiple-choice question with an open-ended one. For example, you could ask the stakeholder to respond to a statement based on a scale of “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” Then, follow up by asking the stakeholder to explain why they gave that response. The quantitative data from multiple-choice questions can reveal overall trends about a specific topic. But more importantly, the qualitative data from open-ended questions can point your district in the right direction.

Finding the “why” can also help you discover which causes are the most important to your stakeholders. For instance, you might include a statement that says, “The district should allocate more funds to STEM curriculum in the schools.” Stakeholders would answer by indicating the degree to which they agree or disagree with the statement. When they explain why, stakeholders have a chance to describe how they want the district to allocate its budget. That way, if stakeholders are generally unhappy with the current budget, you have a clearer idea of how to reach a solution.

Uncover what they really want to say

A stakeholder survey is your chance to get feedback about a variety of topics. Of course, you’ll want to include questions that address topics you frequently discuss during school board meetings. However, the survey must also leave room for stakeholders to raise their own concerns. What’s important to you might not be all that important to stakeholders. You might want to talk about the school budget, but your stakeholders might have a thing or two to say about the district’s anti-bullying efforts.

To get more insightful answers, think about who your stakeholders are and what they care about the most. You’re probably not going to send the same survey to every person in your school community. Create a different survey for each stakeholder group, and tailor the questions based on each group’s unique desires and concerns. For example, you could create a survey geared towards teachers and staff. In that survey, you might ask questions about the classroom environment, professional development or the level of support they receive from administrators.

There’s one other thing you can do to get the most value out of survey results. At the end of the survey, always provide an open-ended question that says something along the lines of, “What other concerns would you like the district to know about?” This gives stakeholders a chance to really speak their minds, especially if the survey questions didn’t address all of their concerns. The survey should give stakeholders every opportunity to speak up about thoughts that have previously gone unsaid.

Get answers that lead to change

Stakeholder surveys are a powerful tool for enacting change within your district. Asking good questions will generate the answers you need to enact that change. The survey results should give you a good idea of what’s working well and what needs improvement. The more specific your questions are, the more insightful the answers will be.

The search for feedback shouldn’t end when you get the survey results. Rather, a stakeholder survey should serve as a launch point for more in-depth conversations. Good survey questions can give you the information you need to conduct stakeholder focus groups. These group discussions center around recurring pain points identified in the survey results. It’s important to ask the right questions so you can more clearly understand which topics need to be addressed during the focus sessions.

Remember, different concerns will crop up for each stakeholder group. This is why it’s important to create questions based on who’s filling out the survey. Some topics are only relevant to certain stakeholders, so think carefully about who should participate in the focus group. If you sent out several different surveys, you’re probably going to have several different focus groups. Let the survey results determine who’s in each group and which topics they’re going to discuss.

As you can see, stakeholder surveys involve a bit more than asking a series of questions. You have to make sure you’re asking the right questions, too. The right questions are specific and thought provoking, and they should address topics that stakeholders care about the most. Good questions lead to insightful feedback, and insightful feedback leads to positive change.

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