- How capable they were at self-identifying the problems they faced;
- How able they were at identifying root causes;
- Whether they could determine what practical resources they needed.
To find this out, I printed three questions in circles on a 3×5″ card for respondents:
|Sample 3×5″ survey card.|
- Why are you here?
- What can make you come back?
- What do you need right now?
Don’t over-complicate what you’re asking people. Being simple and getting straight to the point will ensure that you get answers that are… simple and straightforward. Don’t ask too many questions either. If you have to do multiple different question topics, make them visually distinct and keep them short. Also, keep the number of questions the same between each topic, like 3+3 or 4+4.
The days of handing out lists of questions on clipboards are over. However, you don’t need to design a complicated app just to ask questions either. Keeping questions brief encourages respondents to answer how they’re most comfortable. Instructions given should be super simple, but reinforce the seriousness of the survey.
In my experience, many people don’t respond well to A-to-Z thinking, let alone attempts to force them into doing the same. Many surveys do this, either on purpose or by accident. Avoid this by keeping questions short, and removing any bias you might have about getting specific types of answers from respondents.
It can be challenging for people from diverse backgrounds to activate their future-thinking abilities, especially when they come from adverse situations. Because of this and other reasons, asking them specific questions about the future sight-unseen might turn them off to answering any other questions you ask. However, asking broad questions about the future may activate their future imaginations and allow them to trust you more because you believe they have something worth sharing about the future.
Similarly, asking questions about life assumes they think they think about life the way you do. For instance, some people have come to accept this formula:
- Life = grades K-12 + college + career.
However, for some other people, the formula looks more like this:
- Life = K-2 then move, 2-5 then repeat 5th grade, 5-7 then get expelled for bringing a gun to school, 7-10 then juvie for shoplifting too much, then drop out and get GED, then tech school for a quarter, then dropout to fight addiction…
In many cases, the lives of real people are too disjunctive to attach your expectations to the questions. Don’t allow your biases to influence your survey. Try to release those and ask different questions.
Effective surveys for real people are like effective programs: they must be to respondents’ unique needs and capabilities. Here are some sample questions and the audiences they’re intended for:
- “What are you responsible for right now?” —To help determine what a neighborhood group sees itself capable to doing through a community service project.
- “Describe your life in the next 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years.” —To help a program identify what services they can provide for formerly incarcerated people in order to help them succeed.
- “What do you need to change your life right now?” —To identify whether service industry workers see there are options between short-term and long-term planning.
- “What’s your plan for the next three years?” —To help a GED program determine how to appeal to youth participants.
- Refusing—”That’s your job to decide,” or “You tell me,” respondents may protest.
- Testing—Offering outrageous suggestions or responses to see if the interviewer is really serious about the invitation to answer the survey honestly.
- Parroting—Repeating what the interviewer has said or guessing what they want to hear. A respondent might be asked to suggest a problem in the program and write, “We should keep our noses to the grindstone and finish the job,” even though they’re not planning to do this themselves.