Conducting a community survey can be a good strategic move for a school district of any size. The obvious benefit is gathering feedback to understand better what’s working and where additional focus and resources are needed.
Less obvious is that the survey can tell your story and educate your community on your district’s unique challenges and opportunities.
At the end of the day, the survey process can foster a sense of collaboration between the district and your stakeholders. Simply by asking the community for their opinions, you clearly demonstrates that you value everyone’s input. This can strengthen community-school relations and promote collaboration.
But surveying an entire community can be daunting. Recognizing these challenges in advance allows for better planning and mitigation strategies. Here are some common obstacles and potential solutions.
Obstacle: Determining who constitutes “the community” and ensuring all subgroups are represented.
Solution: Don’t sample. Be inclusive. A random sampling excludes most members of the community. Worse yet, conspiracy theories will likely pop up regarding who received a survey. “Why was I excluded?”
Obstacle: Some groups may respond more than others, leading to non-representative results.
Solution: Offer the survey in multiple formats (e.g., online and paper). Ensure the survey is accessible to all (e.g., different languages, readable formats). Once the data is gathered, remove any bias by developing a weighted average analysis. For example, most communities comprise about 25% parents, who are quite likely to respond to a school survey. Approximately 75% of the community doesn’t have kids in the district, nor are they employed by the school. These folks are less likely to respond. Creating a weighted average analysis will remove this bias.
Obstacle: Poorly designed questions can lead to unclear results.
Solution: Write at a fifth-grade level and avoid education, school finance, and architecture/construction jargon. Even though we have written thousands of survey questions, issues can get complex and confusing. Pre-test the survey. Ask and listen to those who are not too close to the process regarding what makes sense and what’s confusing.
Obstacle: Distributing, collecting, and managing physical surveys can be cumbersome.
Solution: Use a digital, mobile-friendly platform. Provide physical collection points for paper surveys. You should also provide a business reply envelope so that the cost (or availability!) of a stamp doesn’t inhibit responding.
Obstacle: Participants might be reluctant to share personal information.
Solution: Ensure confidentiality by using an independent third party and avoid collecting unnecessary personal information. We used to ask about income level. Then, one day, someone called and asked, “Just because I’m poor, does that mean you’re not going to listen to my feedback”? We don’t ask that question anymore.
Obstacle: Community members may feel disillusioned if they don’t see results or actions from the survey.
Obstacle: Limited time and money.
Solution: Phone a friend. School Perceptions can help. Over the past 20 years, we have conducted nearly 1,000 community surveys. We also understand schools’ financial challenges and will develop a process and proposal that fits your budget.
For other helpful tips, read one of Lindsey’s or Bill’s other blogs below:
The School Perceptions Blog and Resource Center features the voices of our team members. This post was written by Bill Foster, President & Founder.