Citizens’ panels are an easy and cost-effective way for local government to consult with their community. A lot of thought and planning needs to go into a survey even before the first question is drafted. Surveys take a lot of time and resources to develop, analyse and report on and you do not want to get to the drafting of the final report and find that the survey data does not actually supply you with the information you require or that the data is unusable, as they say, prior planning and preparation prevents poor performance. This article will go over some of the best practice when designing surveys for panels.
Citizens’ panel surveys often stem from a piece of work or a project being carried out by a local government, so it is important to keep in mind what the objective of the overall project or work is but also to develop an objective for the survey itself. It is a good idea to include the objective of the survey in the introduction as this allows the respondent to be informed not only the purpose of the survey but also how the survey results will be used.
When planning a survey there are a number of other factors to consider:
• What do you want to learn from the survey? This normally takes the form of 1 -5 learning objectives
• Who is the target audience for your survey?
• What is the purpose of the final report?
• Who is the end reader?
• What are the potential actions that could be taken based on the results of the survey?
Once the planning stage has been completed then you can move onto survey design.
When designing the questions for your survey it is important to keep in mind the objective of the bigger project but also the objective of the survey and the elements identified during the planning stage. It is recommended that questions are grouped around the learning objectives and that the questions are designed with the audience in mind.
When using rating scales such as a Likert scale which is a common rating tool it is important to keep the scales consistent throughout the survey. This not only applies to the scores i.e. a sourcing scale of 1-5 but also the values of each score, if you change the scale part way through the survey it may confuse the respondent, they could answer a question incorrectly or get frustrated and not complete the survey; all of these impact on the data collected and the results of the survey.
As discussed earlier it is recommended that questions are grouped together, one way of doing this is by using a grid. It is recommended that a grid question has no more than five rows.
It is a requirement under the Local Government Act 2002 that local governments have an engagement policy on how it will engage with communities on issues, proposals, assets and other activities or matters that are significant or may have significant consequences; a number of Councils have established citizens’ panels as part of their engagement policy. Citizens’ panels are easy to set up and maintain, are cost-effective and the data collected enables decisions and policy to be informed and backed by research.