What Tools Are Available for Getting and Managing Feedback?
This article is the fourth in our feedback series. In our first, we talked about how feedback can help improve your program in, “Why Your Program Can Benefit from Feedback (and How to Get It).” In our second, we covered “Where Does Feedback Come From?” And we covered “What, How, and Whom Do I Ask” in our last article.)
As we’ve discussed, there are many formats for gathering feedback, and plenty of goals to set. Whether you’re receiving program suggestions to increase class enrollment or looking for details about creating a great class registration process, there are tools available to help.
Having and using appropriate tools will help keep your process organized and give you better data. Many of them are available for free or at a low cost to help you create, manage, and will even report the results of your questionnaires or interviews. We’ll cover tools for questionnaires and tools for in-person use, for both individuals and focus groups.
Tools for Questionnaires
Questionnaires are by far the most common and as such there are a wide variety of options to use for getting data, some free and some which have a fee.
We are all familiar with the surveys we’ve been sent online. These are among the most popular ways to gather data because there are many, many options, and they’re easy to set up, administer, and get data from when the survey is complete.
There are many options for online surveys (a quick search will net dozens immediately), but two of the most accessible, useful, and free options are Google Forms and Survey Monkey.
Google Forms is accessible to anyone with a Google Docs account. It’s pretty intuitive, and you can collaborate with others while creating the survey and sharing the data. You can provide just a simple link that will allow access to the poll. (You can see a Google Forms sample we made here.) Its many options (and the fact that it’s free) make it an excellent starting place.
Using a simple form like this, you can also enter the data manually if you need to, which is helpful for those who may offer a printed survey as well as a digital one. Results are presented in both a basic visual summary, in a Google Sheets spreadsheet, or you can download them as a .csv file.
If you’ve filled out a poll online, there’s a good chance it was created using Survey Monkey. Even the free version of Survey Monkey is robust and offers a complete survey experience for its users. Like Google Forms, you can enter data manually if you need to.
The Survey Monkey assistant can help you create a survey in seconds, even suggesting complete surveys that you can customize. (You can see a Survey Monkey sample we made here.) It provides an estimate of how long the survey will take your users to complete, which is helpful when designing. It also offers a robust suite of tools for analyzing your data, which you can share and present. Unfortunately, you can’t download the data or export it without upgrading to a paid plan, but the reporting features may make it worth the $25/month fee if you plan to use it regularly.
For those dedicated to all things Microsoft, you can conduct online surveys and stay in the Microsoft universe. The online version of Excel offers the ability to create Excel-based surveys using OneDrive and Microsoft Forms. Of those described here, it is the most limited, but if you need a simple questionnaire and Excel’s your jam, you’ll want to read the how-to details and get extra help directly from Microsoft.
Social Media Polls
Polls on your social media page are one of the quickest and easiest ways to get information. Polls can increase engagement with your page and also provide you interesting data from those who follow you in that space. We’ll cover the big three, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
You can make a poll on your Facebook page or group and encourage your followers to fill it out. Responses will be limited to your followers, and it’s worth noting that the polls can’t be “boosted” to be seen more widely. You can choose to have the poll up for a limited amount of time, however.
Instagram Stories polls tend to be pretty simple A-or-B preference polls. However, it can help you determine what your audience is interested in at a very basic level. Even the Instagram “emoji slider” has been tricked into being an opinion measuring tool too. Later.com has several clever ideas for using Instagram to ask questions to connect with your audience.
Twitter also has a polling feature, which is very easy to use. It’s great for very short, simple questions that can be answered easily and clearly since you won’t have many characters to provide options.
You can create a physical “fill it out with a pen” questionnaire using your favorite word processing or graphic design program.
The main types of questions and answers are
- Simple open questions (that require short written answers);
- Interval questions (select from a scale of numbers);
- Categorical questions (make selections from a series of options.)
Short and sweet surveys are best – most people won’t bother if it takes more than five minutes.
If you want a little more guidance and a little less formatting, the Free Questionnaire Maker website can help you create simple documents that you can download and print.
As noted earlier, you can enter the data from the questionnaires you provide in print into your online survey tool and allow the data to exist and be managed in one place.
Tools to Use In-Person
Tools for Interviews
Tools: Questions, paper, and pen, optional recording device, 30-60 minutes
A successful interview requires questions and a way for you to record those questions. You can gather general feedback and a few quotes with a pen and paper. (Studies show that using a computer rather than taking notes results in a lower-quality interview since the interview subjects tend to wait for typing to stop.) You only need to reflect what you’ve heard, and capture quotes that feel important to you and highlight things that feel truly important. Writing notes by hand also helps to make sense overall structure of the conversation.
If you need lots of detail, a way to record the sessions will be helpful, as will having someone to transcribe the conversations later. You can use any kind of recording software, including the basic recording software on your phone or your computer. Make sure your interviewee knows that you’re recording and that you’re both in quiet places. (This is particularly important for phone interviews!)
An interview requires that you ask open-ended questions, one question at a time, and be patient – let your subject take the time they need to answer the question. (The Poynter Institute has some excellent tips for interviewing and note-taking.)
As soon as possible after the interview, it’s important to capture the notes you’ve made in your favorite program for note-taking. Evernote and Google Docs are good free cloud-based options for notes. Google Drive or Dropbox are great places to store audio files until you are finished with them.
Tools: Questions, recording device, paper and pen, 60-90 minutes, optional assistant
Because focus groups require focus from a facilitator, it will be helpful to record the session to review comments and the conversation after. It is also useful to have an assistant dedicated to taking detailed notes so that the facilitator can pay close attention to the participants.
As with interviews, you’ll want to have paper and pen to get notes and write thoughts and follow-up questions.
The questions you’ll ask fall into three categories:
- introduction questions (to get people comfortable sharing with the group);
- follow-up questions (to get opinions and explore the discussion); and
- exit questions (to ensure that you didn’t miss anything in the discussion.)
Six questions and their explorations typically will take an hour with a small focus group, so plan accordingly.
(SocialCops provides an excellent, in-depth look at operating a focus group on their blog, worth reading if you’d like to try your hand at using this method.)
Putting the Tools to Use
Once you’ve chosen who you’ll ask for feedback and how you’ll collect that feedback, it’s time to organize and arrange it.
The typical steps are:
- Write out your goal (Our goal is to understand if our schedule is meeting our students’ needs);
- Write out your questions (What questions will help us to understand if our schedule is meeting students’ needs?);
- Prepare your survey
- If you are doing a questionnaire, create and print it for distribution, or ready it for online submissions;
- If you are doing interviews or focus groups, prepare to schedule them.
- Give your participants the information they need to participate;
- Email a link to an online questionnaire;
- Send a traditional mailing or provide printed material in person;
- Email, mail, or call to invite participants to join a focus group or be interviewed;
- Conduct your survey.
When the survey is completed, you’ll have lots of data! We’ll talk about what to do with that data in the next article, but we’ll leave you with this thought:
“Put yourself in the customer’s shoes for a moment; imagine what you would want to happen as a result of giving feedback.”
– Roisin Murray & Wallace Murray