A survey captures opinions and feelings at a specific point in time. Like a photograph, it reflects the moment it was taken. So how do we ensure that the results of our surveys—and the insights we gain from them—are an accurate representation of the community?
The answer is multiyear studies. There are many reasons why we continue to survey on the same topic, even using the same questions. Let’s walk through some of the benefits of multiyear studies, using Wiley’s Society Membership Survey as an example.
Compare Changes in Opinion
Opinions, needs, and values evolve over time. Multiyear surveys allow us to track changes and map trends that we can use to evaluate and at times even predict trajectories by extrapolating data.
For example, in 2016 we completed the second annual iteration of our Society Membership Survey. With only two years of data we can’t see trends in the way we’ll be able to in 3 years or 5 years, but we can still start to see some patterns. In both surveys, we asked nonmembers why they didn’t participate in a society or association.
There’s a lot of change here, in part because we didn’t include lapsed membership as an option. But looking deeper, we can see a huge decrease in the percentage of respondents who selected “I’ve never been invited to join.” How will these changes continue to track in future years? Only time will tell.
Improve the Phrasing of your Questions
Having a second chance at deploying a survey also lets you continuously improve your questions. During analysis it might become clear that your original question was confusing or that it doesn’t yield answers to what you really meant to ask.
Repeating a survey lets you refine your questions. Of course, this does affect your ability to compare identically phrased questions year on year, but that can be worth it to achieve clarity.
There were a couple of questions in our Society Membership Survey that got tweaked in the second year. In our first survey, we asked recipients for their primary reasons for renewing. They were given a few options, such as “I feel connected to the community,” and “I have never thought about it.” The next year, we expanded the question. Instead of asking about the primary reason they renew, we asked them to think back to the last time they decided to renew.
We also gave recipients more options to choose from. This question represented an opportunity to gain more information, and multiyear research allows us to do that.
Add New Questions
Sometimes your results might spark more questions that either didn’t occur to your team the last time around, or questions that you decided not to ask.
Multiyear studies are your chance to voice those unasked questions. In our second year of the Membership Survey, we realized that we were missing the voice of the lapsed member. We knew a certain percentage of those participating in the survey were former members, but we hadn’t asked them why they stopped renewing.
This information is very valuable to us, and to societies thinking about renewals. Knowing both the why and the why not gives us a more complete picture.
Capture Data from New People in the Community
The research community—or really any community—is constantly growing as new individuals start their careers. Reaching early career professionals is critical to the continued success of any industry, and we need to ensure that we’re capturing the most up-to-date information about this group’s needs.
One of the most exciting aspects of the Wiley Society Membership Survey is that it captures the opinions and values of those with only a few years of experience and those who are students. It can be easy to assume that a community is knowledgeable about the professional offerings available, but that’s not always the case.
In both iterations of the survey, we captured information from those with less than a year’s experience in their fields.
Any researcher knows that you can never have too much data. Multiyear studies let us build up an ever-growing dataset. Surveys are an incredibly valuable market research tool for any organization. But, survey fatigue is real. It’s important to make sure that your recipients know how you’re using their thoughts. Make your questions count, and make sure your recipients know that you value their continued participation in multiyear market research.
For more resources on the Wiley Society Membership Survey, click here.
Image Credit: Samantha Green
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