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  • Writer's pictureWM&R

“Conducting Your Own Survey is Like Performing Surgery on Yourself."

How to Maximize the Benefit of Your Internal Research

For years in my “volunteer career” for ASAE, I was a loud advocate for DIY research. Of course, I was responsible for research in my own associations, so I was (very) biased. I grew up in associations at a time when association consulting was a thing, but was rare.

Over time, everyone got an online software package and did their own surveys, so I guess my own timing to open a consulting firm doing a lot of surveys stunk. But I have also been happy, consistent with my old line as a staffer, to help others make sure they learned what they needed. It wasn’t until I heard another consultant compare surveys to surgery that I realized other people actually resented the trend.

I personally think the online survey trend should have worked wonders:

1) It meant being able to, then expecting to do, timely research.

2) It made the data collection and basic reporting process easy.

3) It should mean more “democratic” decision-making.

As always, there are conditions and caveats.

1) Some surveys are timely, but others are rushed. Fielding often occurs quickly, but even with extensive deliberation and overhead blown in terms of staff time, the right questions are not asked, and sometimes they are asked over several surveys. Informz linked to your AMS or PropFuel are good attempts to link to your data via API, but thoughtful analysis of underlying causes, implications, etc. of any area of inquiry is hard to do with one or a series of quick surveys.

2) Basic reporting is easy, but using SurveyMonkey as an example, we all have become accustomed to an Excel spreadsheet with a graphic, one question per worksheet, and a long series of comments in a pdf or dumped into a spreadsheet. The same factors that drove timeliness also lead to us avoiding cross-tabulations and contingency tables that help us understand what actions and attitudes drive other beliefs and acts which was probably why you did the survey in the first place.

3) Finally, we find that surveys become rote, something on our management checklist. While 7 Measures taught us way back in 2006 that aptitude with data is one of the few markers of remarkable associations, most of us conduct them occasionally, rarely refer back to them, or treat them for what they are—articulations and simulations of member and non-member behavior that we could refer to over and over safety to ensure Board, Committee, and staff deliberations begin with some grounding in a realistic understanding of what EVERYONE thinks.

Future posts will explore these techniques in detail, but for now we just wanted to set the stage.

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