Best Practices for Survey Implementation in the Federal Government
Feb 02, 2018 | By: Drew Lessard | Category: Survey Administration
Surveys provide valuable data to federal agencies in several key areas. From internal surveys that measure employee satisfaction to longitudinal surveys that collect data on the effectiveness of public facing programs, they are a necessary and information-rich tool.
To ensure maximum value, however, surveys must be administered effectively. Careful consideration should be given by program managers to maximize response rate, streamline internal communication, and narrow the focus of the survey so the results are as actionable as possible. By following these best practices, it’s possible to greatly improve the survey administration process from the agency level down.
Establish Key Stakeholders Early
One of the most common challenges in federal government survey research is an overabundance of stakeholders – each with their own requirements and expectations. A good survey should be streamlined in such a way that it speaks to the specific needs of the program or organization. Start the survey preparation process by selecting 2-3 stakeholders who can provide feedback on a regular basis. This will accomplish two things:
- Speed Up the Feedback Process – With only a select few stakeholders, you can more quickly solicit feedback and make updates to your initial survey, as well as the follow-up reporting.
- Keep the Survey Focused – With only 2-3 stakeholders, you can reduce the number of steps in the review process and keep the survey focused on the area that is most important.
Build your team from the outset to support your efforts and ensure better implementation both at the start and once the survey is completed.
Developing a Survey Plan
Every department is different, and every survey has a unique set of desired results. For this reason, avoid cookie cutter templates for your survey. Survey development should not begin until a plan is developed. The plan should focus on the objective of the survey and address internal issues that may stand in the way of successful implementation. These might include:
- Mandated Response Rates – If there are response rate goals outlined by key stakeholders or OPM, your sampling plan should take them into account, while also managing against the overall budget of the project.
- Overlap with Other Programs – If there are multiple programs that might influence the development of the survey, either at the outset or between iterations, identify the topics of interest to help focus survey development. Avoid future issues whenever possible by planning from the outset.
- Previous Survey Issues – If there have been issues with past surveys in your agency or department, including low response rates, lack of execution on results, or negative feedback from stakeholders, spend some time evaluating what happened and develop a plan that can overcome these potential issues.
With a clear plan established at the outset, your survey will have a much better chance for success.
Choosing the Right Survey Administration Method
Some surveys have specific requirements that must be met, including sampling plans, limits on contact data, targeted response rates, or budget constraints. Your method of survey administration will vary greatly depending on all these factors.
Online surveys are the most common because they are inexpensive, and respondents are easier to reach, but they require you have accurate email addresses for all respondents. Alternate modes can be used in addition to web surveys when other requirements need to be met or valid email addresses are not available. These methods may include telephone or mail surveys. Cost will be higher when implementing a multi-mode survey, but it will be easier to achieve your goals. Focusing your survey on the right method or mix of methods will give you a better opportunity to reach targeted goals and obtain necessary data.
Learn how EconSys addressed these and similar challenges in our work with the Department of Veterans Affairs, for which we developed a new sampling plan and executed a multi-year longitudinal survey.