This very simple survey method at a special event caught my eye last year at the Larimer County Farmers’ Market in Fort Collins, Colorado, where we live. When I managed a nature center for thirteen years in Pueblo, special events were the lifeblood of our fundraising and they attracted thousands of people to our site. This kind of survey method would have been a great way to answer questions we had about visitor preferences.
The method is simple. They set up three or four flipcharts side by side at a prominent location at the farmers’ market. One question with three or four options is simply stated on each flipchart. Volunteers hand out large sticky dots, one per flipchart so that a guest has one vote per question. People stick a dot in the column below their preferred answer.
Is there peer pressure in the voting? Perhaps. But I was aware when making choices that I don’t know any of the folks around me and do not care what they think so its not the direct kind of peer pressure of making choices in the presence of classmates or friends. All surveys have some potential bias, but this method is not intended to be a scientific survey. It simply gives an indication of the preferences of the audience in attendance. The down side is that it does not solicit any input from those not in attendance, but that information, if desired, can be gathered in another way. On the up side, this method does not require face to face interactions with the surveyor, so the bias associated with using an interviewer can be avoided. Since interaction with the person handing out dots is somewhat limited, the design of the questions is critically important. They must be stated clearly with easily understood options. People seem to enjoy the activity but usually want to participate quickly and move on.
This kind of survey has value beyond the information obtained. It invites the customers to think about their motivations. It gives them instant feedback on the motivations of others. It tells them you value their input and will be trying to improve events based on that input.
On varied occasions in the management of sites and events I have seen planning processes that make important decisions with no feedback from users at all. Usually the reasons include “too much trouble, too costly, and not enough time.” Surveys like this flipchart approach offer a simple, direct method of getting useful input; however, like all surveys, they should be considered just that – an input tool, not necessarily a decision-making tool.
We manage better when we know what our customers or guests want or need. This simple tool can help those we serve express their desires easily, quickly, and inexpensively.
– Tim Merriman