What, How, and Whom Do I Ask to Get the Feedback I Need?
(This article is the third 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?”)
Choosing Your Feedback Method
There are many ways to get feedback, and each method is better for some kinds of information and data gathering than others.
However, of equal import are the questions you ask and the way you ask them, which is what this article covers!
In an ideal situation, we want to be sure we understand what participants expect, who to ask for feedback, and who invites that feedback. When we’ve defined those, we can plan out the ideal way to ask, the best method to use, and even who will manage that feedback.
Thinking the process through will help create a better experience for everyone involved.
What Are the Participant’s Expectations?
People invited to participate should be told why they should participate, how long it will take, and what they can expect as a result. (It’s quite similar to the information someone should get when they register for a class!)
The “why” is essential as it helps to focus the customer’s feedback into the right area. If you want feedback on the kinds of classes you offer, make it very clear that’s what you want to know. Focusing removes thoughts about enrollments, environment, instruction, etc. from the real question –do we offer the right classes?
Following through on any commitments you make to participants is critical. If you say that you’ll be responding directly to people who take the survey, make sure that you have a plan for that and are prepared to follow through.
Who Will Be Asked?
It’s easy to send a survey out to everyone on your list, but more challenging to narrow down a focus group or individual interview subjects.
For targeted feedback, you may want to narrow your list in ways that help to support your goal. If you want to understand why class enrollment is low on Mondays, you may want to send to your whole list of class attendees. If you want to know how a particular instructor is doing, you’ll send only to people who have taken classes with that instructor. Having the right participant list will give you better data to help you further your goals.
Who Sends the Invitation?
For best results, reach out to your audience directly rather than indirectly.
That said, deciding the most appropriate person to invite feedback depends on what you are requesting, how you’re asking, and how you’re gathering the feedback. The request should come from an individual representing your organization, like the program director or the administrative assistant who everyone has met when they’ve enrolled or registered for a class.
For a focus group or in-person feedback, someone will need to reach out to prospective participants, by email, on paper, or by calling.
You might include a paper survey in a printed catalog or with class registration paperwork, but it’s easily overlooked. You’ll typically have better results if it’s sent through the mail with a self-addressed-stamped-envelope, or handed out by instructors at some point during or at the end of a class.
Who Sees the Results?
It’s a good idea to decide early on who will see the data before you ever send out requests. Will everyone with access to your Google Drive see the results? Or will they be reported only to a single individual? Will the results be shared publicly?
You can choose whatever you want, so long as you’re transparent about what you’re doing.
For certain kinds of data, privacy is important. If you plan to ask sensitive questions and want honest answers, your responder will likely want to know who has access to the data. If anonymous responses are important, you will need to set up your survey so the responder can’t be identified. Disclose early if the survey is anonymous or confidential –and then be sure that it is.
For example, if your survey is about your program’s customer service experience, people may not be as honest if the results are going to the front desk admin (who is the person working in customer service.) The survey results should go to another party, and it should be clear who will and will not have direct access to the results.
What to Do Next
Once you know what your goal is, what questions to ask, who you’re asking, and who’s sending the request for feedback, you can choose the best tool for the job. Our next article will cover tools to gather feedback, both “old school” and digital; and some ways to collect the data.
The Whats of Feedback
As you begin collecting feedback, you need to know why you are seeking feedback. Clearly defining your reason to get feedback will help you craft an approach that will provide you with the best information.
At the most basic level, you only need a few things:
- What do you want to know and why do you want to know it?
- What’s the best way to get the information?
- What will you do with the information that you have?
What Do You Want to Know?
You need to identify what you need to know.
- Why are we not getting the repeat students that we expect?
- How can we increase student referrals?
- Why do we have higher class registrations on Mondays through Wednesdays?
- Why are students enrolling in our program vs. other programs?
- How do our tuition and fees compare to our students’ expectations?
- How do we compare to other competing activities in our area?
- Are we meeting our students’ needs?
- How do we create a six-star experience for our students?
- What’s the overall satisfaction level with our current program (staff and students?)
- How are our new instructors doing? How can a specific instructor get feedback about their class?
- Should we stop offering this specific class, or are there things we can do to improve it?
Once you know what your goal is, you can choose both your method and your audience. From there, you’ll figure out the kinds of questions that will help you meet your goals.
What Type of Survey Should Be Used?
The two primary kinds of surveys are interviews and questionnaires. The method you choose will be based on what you need to know and on your overall goal. The data you gather will be different in each, which is one of the reasons planning is helpful.
To quickly understand: a questionnaire would be an excellent way to learn that 60% of the population likes classes held on Mondays and Tuesdays.
An interview or focus group is the best way to learn why 60% of your audience prefer classes on Mondays and Tuesdays.
If you’re looking for data “by the numbers” and have questions that can be answered briefly or using a scale, questionnaires are the right choice. Its use of mostly closed-ended questions is unlikely to lead to detailed answers, and it will stay narrowly in a topic.
- Is time and cost-effective (particularly if done online!);
- Should take between 5-6 minutes to complete;
- Can be presented to a large sample size;
- Can be conducted online or offline;
- Offers consistent data;
- Provides data that is easy to compile, compare, and review;
- Can be ongoing or easily deployed to new groups of people.
Personal Interviews and Facilitated Feedback
Interviews and focus groups help you understand your subject at a deeper level than you can access with a questionnaire. They help get to the “why” of a topic. Looking at the “why” is an investigative challenge requiring conversation. In-person interviews –either group or one-on-one– conversations, focused on one overall topic, are kept on track by the interviewer or facilitator.
- Requires careful scheduling;
- Is time and resource-heavy;
- May require an outside facilitator;
- Offers flexibility and more in-depth conversation;
- Can follow up with additional questions;
- May uncover intriguing “why” answers related to the topic;
- Requires limited sample sizes;
- Will provide quotes and anecdotal data.
- While it may seem daunting, there are many readily available tools to help manage each of these feedback methods.
In the fourth article of this series, “Let’s Talk Tools” covers several of them.
As always, feel free to send us questions to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll gladly answer them!