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The single best way to ensure that you are doing a good job of engaging all of your stakeholders is to simply ask them for feedback. The best way to do that is with a survey.

A communication survey can be done a number of different ways. For example, you can first conduct a communication audit to review the engagement goals of the school or district. Next, you can ensure that audiences, messages, and communications tools are aligned and then use a survey to test assumptions.

Or, you can use a survey to start a communications planning process. There are many firms out there that do this kind of work, including ours, but some of you may wish to do your survey work in-house, which can work just as well.

Here are some tips for a great communications survey.

First, pick your tool. Communications surveys are conducted mostly online nowadays. You can use a website like SurveyMonkey or FormSite.com, which we prefer because it allows for a greater degree of branding and customization.

The survey should be introduced to the community by a letter to parents, an article in the local paper, or by other means. In most cases, the survey should be set up using a custom domain name, such as AnytownSchoolSurvey.com. When introducing the survey, make sure to mention that those who prefer taking the survey offline with paper and pencil are allowed to do so.

The survey should begin with a demographic section that asks if the respondent is a parent. If the respondent is a parent, it is helpful to know what school his or her children attend. For parents and nonparents alike, it’s good to know how long the respondent has lived in the community. The surveys should be anonymous; therefore, do not ask any kind of question that would reveal the identity of the respondent.

In addition to asking respondents how satisfied they are with the school district and whether they would recommend the schools to others, it’s important to ask how they would describe the school or district to someone who is not familiar with it.

The answers to this question are often the most telling and will provide critically important information.

Next, ask questions to determine whether parents and other community members are receiving the kind of information they need from the school or district. Also, ask what exactly they want to receive in terms of information and how connected they feel to the school or district.

It is often helpful to understand what tools respondents use to inform themselves and what sources they find the most and least trustworthy, as well as which technologies they use.

A great way to conclude your survey is to ask what the school or district can do to improve its communications.

Conduct a survey of parents and community members and another one for your staff. If yours is a larger district, consider giving a survey to administrators and the school board. When you have the survey results, look for obvious shortcomings, themes in the data, discrepancies between one stakeholder group and another, and discrepancies within stakeholder groups, such as between younger and older parents.

Establish a baseline using your first year’s data and conduct the survey at the same time every year to note improvements over time.