Surveys are a valuable tool for agencies, businesses, and individual researchers alike. They allow us to gather data from a representative sample of people, which can help us understand complex phenomena or answer important questions. Not all surveys are created equal, however, so the methodology you use is critical to the overall effectiveness of your efforts. In this article, we will discuss how to facilitate and analyze public discourse through online software platforms.

Although the tools may be sophisticated, breaking down how they operate is vital to the success of your survey.

Step One: Determine Your Target Population

The first step in creating an effective survey is to determine your target population. This is actually, by far, the most important AND overlooked step.

A quick word of caution: this usually takes a few tries to get right. Don’t expect to simply locate the first bunch of people who will fill out your forms and be done.

Without carefully vetting who, exactly, is completing your survey, it’s entirely possible you will be left without meaningful data. Key to the success of this process is the systematic sampling of demographics.

The reasoning behind this is simple. You need to make sure that your sample size is representative enough to adequately answer your underlying questions.

For example, if you’re determining what the public reaction to the building of a new daycare will be, you may not care what people within the age range of 18-21 think. It’s not that the data from this age group isn’t useful under any circumstances, so much as that their opinions are likely more reflective of their indifference. They, on average, won’t have children, so their feedback will be less useful than that of older parents.

You may find, for example, that your demographics have an unusual overabundance of college students. Concerning the construction of a daycare, you’ve just got what most people would consider statistical noise. In other words, you may not be able to use that information to make informed decisions about how big the daycare should be, or whether or not the location is appropriate given the needs of surrounding families.

Step Two: Create Meaningful Questions

This step is actually quite simple. Once you have determined your target population, you need to create a list of questions that will help you achieve your research goals. These questions should be clear and concise, and they should avoid leading or loaded language.

In the case of the daycare, ask something straightforward: “Do you feel the proposed location of the new daycare center will help alleviate childcare pressures for surrounding families?”

Don’t overcomplicate your questions, or you’ll be left pondering answers to accommodate multiple meanings.

Remember to give people an appropriate interface to answer the questions as well. If you ask for a thoughtful response and give people a single text field to answer, chances are high you’re going to get limited responses. Be aware of the environment you’re providing people with to respond. Here is a list of the types of survey questions we offer: Radio, Checkbox, Textarea, Single Slider, Dropdown, Ranking, and Slider Matrix.

Step Three: Test Out Your Target Group

Once you have created your questionnaire, it is important to test it out on a small group of people before administering it to the larger population. This will allow you to iron out any issues with the wording of the questions or problems with the overall structure of the survey.

After testing, you are ready to administer the survey to your target population.

Step Four: Choose a Method of Administration

Spoiler Alert – online platforms offer the most versatility.

To be fair, there are many different ways to administer a survey, and the method you choose will depend on your resources and the type of information you are trying to collect. Surveys can be administered in person, by mail, over the phone, or online. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, so it is important to choose the one that best suits your needs.

But in general the most effective approach is found online. Over the years, we’ve perfected this tool for you.

SmartComment was founded to vastly improve the public comment process for environmentally impactful projects, rule changes, permit applications, and for agencies and organizations that need comprehensive comment support.

Our innovative tool ensures transparency and accessibility for citizens and provides agencies with an unassailable method for effectively and efficiently responding to public comments. The choice is pretty clear.

Step Five: Analyze Your Results

Once you have collected all of the data from your survey, it is time to analyze the results. This can be done using statistical software or by hand if you have a small dataset. Either way, it is important to look at both the quantitative and qualitative data to get a complete picture of what the survey respondents have said.

The benefit of using a platform like SmartComment is that you can accept electronic comments alongside emails, letters, hearing transcripts, submissions, and more. Comments are stored in a secure database where they can be organized by topic, digitally bracketed, and analyzed with charts and graphs. This makes the analysis incredibly easy.

We also offer powerful response tools. By allowing unlimited users, SmartComment puts the agency and consultant in a real-time environment — no more manual updates or shared spreadsheets. When responses are complete, they’re cleanly exported along with comments into any required format.

The choice is pretty simple. If you’re looking for an easy way to administer surveys and analyze results, SmartComment is the perfect solution. Our platform makes it easy to collect and organize data so you can get the information you need to make informed decisions. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you streamline your research process.