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How to avoid survey fatigue

Surveys are the most commonly used online engagement tool for community and stakeholder consultation and research.

They allow for quick and easy collection of community responses in a familiar way, and are often the most simple to setup and accepted form of engagement practice in many organisations.

However, conducting surveys all of the time can come at a price and survey fatigue can easily set-in within your community.

EngagementHQ sees more than 50% of all consultations utilise a survey and more than 1.5 surveys on average launched every month per client.

This means that some communities are potentially asked to complete 20 surveys per year! And that’s just from one organisation they do business with… Think of all the other people potentially throwing out surveys as well.

While we love a good survey and agree they are an essential part of community engagement (at the right time), we are acutely aware of the common survey practices which can lead to lower response rates and even disinterest in your consultations.

At worst, we have seen communities lose faith in consultation processes and become genuinely distrusting that feedback collected through surveys will effect a decision.

In this article, we look at the different types of survey fatigue and how they can be avoided.

4 Types of Survey Fatigue

Over Surveying

This is the obvious type of survey fatigue and it occurs when you are continually asking your community to engage with you via survey. Lots of organisations engage via surveys so it’s important to select the right time to use one and not to just go to survey by default.

Advice: Use surveys sparingly and really consider if one is necessary. Think about other activities you can do to engage with your community online and thoroughly consider what stage of engagement you are in. We recommend to only use surveys when you are trying to capture hard data about your projects towards the end of your consultations. Surveys are not great for ideation, deliberation or learning exercises and they also aren’t the best way to collect geo-spatial information.

Question Fatigue

Question fatigue occurs when you end up asking the same questions in different ways. This normally appears in poorly designed surveys and ends up frustrating participants. This can lead to survey drop-outs and incompletions.

Advice: Ensure you do not simply make up your survey on the fly and think long and hard about what you really need to know in order to make your decision. Always have someone check your survey and always take the survey yourself before promoting it to your community. Understand how each question will help you in reporting and decision-making. If you don’t need it, ditch it.

Long Surveys

How many times have you taken a survey as a participant and become tired of answering questions which just seem to go on forever? Long surveys tend to make participants tired and as a result, attention to their responses and input can lapse. This can lead to poorly gathered insights and a higher rate of non-completion. Moreover, if a participant is faced with a long survey and something goes wrong, where they lose all their survey data, they are unlikely to start the survey again.

Advice: Keep your surveys to a length that is necessary to capture all of the information your require for your decision. Don’t ask questions that aren’t relevant to the decision or project. Use skip logic to take people on a shorter path so they only answer the questions that are relevant to them. You can also use page breaks to group like questions together. Remember, you also need to manage expectations and tell your community how long the survey is expected to take, before they begin.

Disingenuous Surveys

This is a dangerous one! It occurs when your community can see through your survey design and don’t believe that their input will actually effect an outcome. The simply get tired of being asked to participate in disingenuous engagement. The tell-tale signs of this is when survey questions are loaded towards a preferred option or participants do not have an opportunity to suggest an alternative or add more input to the survey. They are often characterised by low levels of participation and can cause community outrage and backlash.

Advice: Proper planning will ensure that you are fully aware of what is negotiable and non-negotiable with your project. Never ask questions about items which you know are off-the-table and if you have a preferred option, it’s incumbent on you to communicate this to your community along with your rationale. Never mask your preferred option with leading or loaded questions that push people to select or confirm what you want. Remember, this is engagement! It should be genuine and you should always treat your community with the respect they deserve as they will see right through you otherwise. If your project isn’t something that is open to two-way engagement, then you are probably better off just informing your community through good communications.