How to make sense of qualitative data, community feedback, and stakeholder surveys
Planning to run a stakeholder survey or collect valuable community feedback?
Let’s cover some of the basics, including why stakeholder surveys are a good idea and the kinds of questions you could include. Plus, we’ll go through the steps to run a stakeholder survey and analyze the data, and how you can systemize the process.
What’s a stakeholder survey?
A survey is a research method commonly used to gather information by asking participants questions.
Stakeholder surveys are normally designed to get community feedback or understand people’s perspectives and how they’re changing or being impacted by a project or organization. Or to understand how to better represent their perspectives when planning a project, so they can structure a project or initiative that better meets their needs.
The stakeholders surveyed are usually groups or individuals who have a direct interest in or are impacted by the project or organization. This might include members of the community, shareholders, customers, employees or a specific community group.
Why run stakeholder surveys or seek community feedback?
Stakeholder surveys are beneficial for a number of reasons. Firstly, they’re a good way to measure and assess your stakeholder engagement as it relates to a project. You can see what you’re doing well and what you can improve on. And you can make sure you’re meeting the needs and expectations of stakeholders instead of just going off your gut feeling.
They can also help you prioritize your stakeholder management efforts. You can filter your survey results to compare different stakeholder groups and see where you need to focus on next. If you understand stakeholders’ perceptions and identify sources of conflict and resistance, you can operate with greater awareness and sensitivity in these areas.
Stakeholder surveys can provide valuable insights that’ll help you make important decisions about your organization. They can inform future communications and plans or help you create better policies, procedures and systems. Or even create better products and services to meet the needs of your customers and other stakeholders.
The qualitative and quantitative data you get from your stakeholder surveys can be a useful measure to see how your initiatives are performing and check whether you’re on track to meet goals. Not only this, but you can use them for benchmarking. Regular surveys and community feedback can help measure change over time and how it impacts stakeholders.
Finally, you have to remember that stakeholder surveys are another form of communicating with your stakeholders. Sending out a survey can help increase respect for the organization and initiatives and boost your organization’s credibility. Especially if you genuinely ask thoughtful questions and use the results to improve initiatives and better meet the needs of your stakeholders.
With so many benefits, it makes good business sense to run stakeholder surveys and gather community feedback.
How do you run a stakeholder survey?
Gathering community feedback and running a stakeholder survey is probably quite similar to other surveys you may have conducted in the past. Here are the steps you’ll need to follow, from planning and promoting to analysis:
Confirm what information you want to collect, what outcome you’re looking for and what stakeholders you want to survey. Consider whether you’ll need to design multiple surveys for different groups.
Decide on the survey format (face to face, telephone, self-administered paper/online), ensuring it provides options for anonymity and provides confidentiality, so your stakeholders feel comfortable providing honest feedback and answers.
2. Survey design
Design the survey, including a mix of qualitative and quantitative questions to help get a more accurate picture of your stakeholders’ perspectives and feedback. Common question formats include multiple choice, multi-select, matrix table, ranking order, rating order and text entry. Depending on the survey format, you may be able to set it up so it’s integrated with your online stakeholder management system.
3. Promote your survey
Share your survey and get the message out there to your stakeholders, explaining the benefits to encourage participation. If you have stakeholder engagement software, you can set up your survey distribution so each stakeholder response is attached to their contact record. Responses to a survey can be saved automatically into your stakeholder management software, eliminating the need for manual handling of the responses.
4. Analyze your results
Collect and analyze the results, then publish these results internally, externally or both (if appropriate). Note that analysis can be tricky for many types of stakeholder surveys and community feedback. We’ll talk more about analysis below.
Consider repeating the process regularly (e.g. quarterly or annually) if you want to track and benchmark progress.
What kinds of questions should you ask?
The best questions for your stakeholder survey will depend on who your stakeholders are and what key areas you want to track and understand their perspectives on. Regardless of these factors, you’ll want to keep your questions simple, short and straight to the point – confusing people will skew your results and reduce completion rate. And think carefully about how you phrase your questions. If you ask the right questions the right way, you’ll increase your chances of getting accurate and usable data.
Some example stakeholder survey questions you could include (and adapt to your own organization/project) are:
- In your experience, has the organization/project given you the opportunity to engage?
- How satisfied are you with the frequency and quality of communication from the organization/project representatives?
- Has the organization/project demonstrated that they’re aware of your views?
- Has the organization/project acted with openness and transparency?
- How have you personally engaged with the organization/project?
- If you could make any changes at the organization/project, what would you do?
Plus, you may want to ask some demographic questions to help you get a better understanding of your stakeholders and how to better engage with them.
Once you’ve got your list of questions, read back through them and make sure they’re as simple and effective as possible. If your survey looks like something your stakeholders are likely to ignore or delete, you might need to revisit your questions.
What do you do with all that data?
Before you send out your stakeholder survey, you must consider how you’ll analyze and present the data in a way that’s meaningful and useful. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Quantitative data is relatively straightforward to layout. See a good example of quantitative stakeholder data analysis here. You’ll see that they’ve plotted out the numbers on charts, including data from previous years to show trends.
But what about qualitative data? How do you represent all that text-rich information meaningfully?
How to turn qualitative data into actionable insights
The key to representing qualitative data in formats that are easily understood and that provide actionable insights is to first find the patterns. Then, if possible, you’ll need to present these patterns in graphical formats (like charts), and back them up with quotes directly from the responses on each of the key topics or themes.
It’s important that your analysis goes beyond the ‘tick-the-box’ approach taken by many stakeholder management systems and instead provides true, in-depth qualitative analysis.
So, how do you do that in practical terms?
Find the patterns in your qualitative data
First of all, you need to organize the data and transcribe any audio surveys into text.
By looking at the data overall, you’ll soon start to recognize patterns, which will help you organize it into categories. For example, you might notice that a few key types of community feedback keep coming up in the responses, so you’d start grouping these responses together.
One way you can look for patterns and explore subsets of data is with Boolean searches (AND, OR, AND NOT). Sometimes, cross-tabbing your results by questions will give you a good understanding of the differences between responses from the different groups you’ve surveyed.
Another method of organizing your qualitative data involves looking at the language/words used by your stakeholders. This can be especially useful in understanding stakeholder sentiment – if stakeholders generally use negative language, you may be able to infer a negative sentiment. If the language is positive, they may feel more positively towards the issues.
Put your qualitative data into categories
Once you’ve identified patterns in your data, you’ll be able to organize it into categories. Categorization is useful in analysis because it helps you show the big picture of your survey responses. For example, in your report, you could quote a few key pieces of community feedback from each category identified so you can represent the majority of stakeholders’ views and perceptions.
So, how do you categorize the data?
Darzin systemizes categorization by setting out your categories in a classification tree. This feature is particularly useful for stakeholder feedback, survey responses, public submissions and managing grievances (see our case studies for Infrastructure Victoria, Ausgrid and Hydro Brazil).
A classification tree can have layers of subcategories and groups topics together to make it easier to code the data. The added benefit of doing this through your stakeholder management system is that you can integrate the data from your stakeholder contact records, like their function or interest. This can help you better understand the needs and priorities of your stakeholders and survey respondents in greater granularity.
Systemize your data collection and analysis
Organizing, distributing and analyzing stakeholder surveys can be a lot of work. But it’s a lot easier to do when you’ve got the right systems and tools in place to manage the process of data collection and help you make sense of your data.
That’s where Darzin’s built-in features come in handy. Features like:
Access all our built-in survey functions and integrate them into your broader stakeholder information system.
Qualitative and quantitative data analysis
Many organizations use tools to make the process of analyzing qualitative data faster and easier. You could use a qualitative analysis system that’s designed for in-depth academic research and use it for your survey data. Or you could use Darzin’s qualitative analysis tools that are designed specifically for stakeholder engagement and surveys.
Our stakeholder analysis tools are designed to help find themes, emerging issues and areas of agreement or dissent, with automatic tag clouds, filtering and reporting.
Our survey tool is the only system on the market that analyses open text responses. We’ve also developed an import template so it’s easy to import your data and responses from other survey systems and get them analyzed.
Our tools help you pull relevant data to produce easy-to-understand reports. That way, you can quickly unpack what your data means and share it with internal or external stakeholders.
Any time you collect data (including surveys) with contact details, the information is attached to a contact record, so it’s all integrated together with your other stakeholder communication and data.
Get more out of your stakeholder surveys
Ready to run your stakeholder survey? We can help make sure you don’t just collect data for the sake of it, but actually collect data that usable, that makes sense and that’s actionable.
So if you’re planning to run stakeholder surveys or collect community feedback, try Darzin.