EconSys Blog

How to Improve Federal Survey Response Rates

Jan 30, 2018 | By: Drew Lessard | Category: Management Consulting

Response rate is a major challenge for Federal agencies when conducting surveys both internally and externally. Survey burnout within individual agencies, inability to reach and engage with targeted respondents, and budget considerations can make it difficult to ensure the response rates needed for a successful survey.

To address these issues, it is important to not only understand why they exist, but how to construct and communicate the role of a survey within the agency.


Addressing Survey Burnout Among Federal Employees

For internal surveys, burnout is a major concern. Because agencies don’t require Office of Management and Budget (OMB) clearance to survey their own employees, the frequency of surveys in the Federal government can make it difficult to introduce new ones. In addition to the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) administered each year, there are other internal surveys to measure everything from overall satisfaction to program-specific feedback.

Addressing burnout requires clear communication not only about the purpose of a survey, but what will be done with the results. Participants want to know that the time they spend completing your survey is an investment in improvements and not just an empty exercise.

>>> Download our VRE Case Study showcasing our experience with Survey  Administration.

Constructing Focused Surveys

Survey response rates decline when you ask too much of your respondents. Long, complicated surveys that take a large chunk of time out of the day are a hard sell, especially for someone with a busy schedule and frequent survey requests. Consider the following when building your survey to address these concerns and increase response rates:

  • Survey Length – Shorter, more focused surveys are a must. Iterate to remove unnecessary questions that go beyond the scope of your survey’s purpose. At the same time, every question should be clear and concise, cutting directly to what you need to know. Surveys that take longer than 15 minutes risk low response rates. If yours is longer than this, make sure every question is necessary and the importance is clearly communicated.
  • Relevance – Ensure questions are relevant and contextual to the purpose of the survey. Additional questions or those that don’t fit respondent expectations can result in a reduced response rate and poor data.
  • Feedback – Allow respondents space to provide feedback within the context of the survey. Open ended questions or additional space for feedback related to questions about satisfaction can yield valuable qualitative data for reporting and discussion.

Your survey should be targeted, unobtrusive, and welcoming to feedback. People need to feel like their opinion matters and will be heard, without the exercise significantly impacting their schedule.

Communicating with Survey Respondents to Improve Response Rate

Communication is the cornerstone of good survey administration, and can impact your response rate in two major ways:

  1. Set Expectations – Open communication with your respondents before administration of a survey ensures they know what to expect and are ready for it. Studies have shown that pre-notification emails can improve response rates by as much as 29 percent. Keep the user experience in mind when communicating.
  2. Share Results – Once a survey is complete, share the reports and findings not only with key stakeholders, but with everyone involved. People want to see that the time they spent was worthwhile and know that their voice has been heard. Include these findings in future survey iterations to showcase prior feedback and communicate if changes are made because of the survey.

By communicating both before and after a survey is administered, you build a stronger relationship with everyone involved. At the same time, don’t be afraid to follow up. Sending out a second mailing can improve response rates by up to 20 percent according to a recent Forrester study, while ongoing reminder emails can have individual effects of 3 to 8 percent.

Clear Planning Can Result in Better Survey Results

Federal survey response rates will vary directly in relation to the time spent constructing a survey. By investing time in crafting a streamlined and focused survey, and communicating clearly to everyone involved – from executive stakeholders to individual respondents – you can greatly improve the results.

If you are interested in learning more about how EconSys approaches Federal survey administration, and the results we were able to help achieve, download our recent case study documenting our work with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Download the VRE Case Study