Writing Objective Questionnaires

Introduction

Writing questionnaires is not an easy task and is often taken on by people who want to do their best for the community that they serve. Unfortunately, a poor questionnaire can reap unrepresentative results, which can go on to drawing incorrect conclusions and unwanted implementations with the implementers believing that they know the will of the community they questioned. The best way to achieve a useful questionnaire is to pay a professional to construct one for you. If you can’t afford this or feel it is not cost effective, the next best thing is to enlist help from someone who is completely detached from the subject about which you are seeking answers.

I must reiterate, it is a difficult task and the best way to get a representative view is to get contribution from as wide a scope of respondents as possible.

What to consider

Cover all eventualities in the questions, do not rely on the comments field to get the alternative view.

In an objective questionnaire, it is not acceptable to make one side of a requirement use the comments field to express their view. As an example, the question ‘Do you want more Tree Preservation Orders?’ with a tick box, does not cater for the person (maybe local builder) who may want fewer Tree Preservation Orders. It is unacceptable to suggest that his view can be put in the ‘Other Comments box’. If a question is truly objective, then asking it in the opposite sense will be just as acceptable. In the above example, I suggest that ‘Do you want fewer Tree Preservation Orders?’ would not be accepted by conservationists. A better solution would be to ask ‘Do you find the number of Tree Preservation Orders A:Too Few, B:Just Right, C:Too many?’ or maybe:
‘There are too few TPOs. Do you Strongly Agree(SA), Agree(A), Neutral (N), Disagree(D), Strongly Disagree(SD)?’ 

Ask the questions to which you require answers.

If you are looking for views of people, you need to be able to find out views directly from the answers without any further assumptions. For example, ‘Do you use the village shop?’ will tell you whether the person uses the shop, but will not find out any view about it or its future. I may use it, but think it should be demolished. Alternatively, I may not use it, but think it should remain, so that others can use it. Asking what people use, does not find out their views. Here’s an alternative:
‘We should keep the village shop. Do you Strongly Agree(SA), Agree(A), Neutral (N), Disagree(D), Strongly Disagree(SD)?’

Make sure you know how you will use the answers.

With each question, ask yourself what the answer will mean to the questioners. So take a question like:
‘Have you had experience of motorbikes riding on the heath?’
Let’s say you get 100 answers saying ‘Yes’. What conclusions can you draw?  Well everyone who rides their motorbike on the heath will have answered ‘Yes’. Others who may object to motorbikes on the heath may also answer ‘Yes’. Each group will answer the same, but have opposing views as to any action required, so no conclusions can be drawn from this question.
Likewise ‘Have you had experience of people turning in your drive? An answer of ‘Yes’ gives no idea of whether the respondent hates people turning or is happy to help out.
Maybe a better solution would be:
‘There is a problem with people turning in my drive. Do you SA, A, N, D, SD?’

Put yourself in the shoes of people unlike you and ask if their views will be catered for.

For example, for someone who wants more available parking, fewer driving restrictions, more places to buy alcohol, fewer trees and flowers, are their views being gathered. If you like riding your motorbike on the heath, if you want more bridleways, if you want more housing, are your requirements being gathered? It is difficult to cover all eventualities, but a good attempt should be made to cover those in different sectors.

Avoid subjective questions

One person’s anti-social behaviour is another person’s ‘fun time.’ One person’s ‘near miss’ is another person’s ‘plenty of room’. One person’s ‘too fast’ is another person’s ‘normal speed’. One person’s ‘normal speed’ is another person’s ‘holding up the traffic’. The answers to these types of questions cannot be used to make objective decisions. There is no real alternative as this is subjective, and questionnaires should be objective.

Avoid favouring the current situation

If you ask questions like ‘Do you use the shop?’ or  ‘Do you use the pet grooming class?’ without asking what facilities are missing and required, then you are in danger of alienating those who would love something that is not (in this example) currently supplied.

Have you experienced one of these? Click here for help

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