Let me start by saying, I really like SurveyMonkey.
By this I mean, I like SurveyMonkey specifically, but I also like online surveys in general. They are easy to ignore if I’m uninterested in the topic but – when the topic is relevant – it is a great, simple service that allows me to share feedback, comments and opinions with whomever wants to solicit them.
Increasingly however, I find people and organizations are putting up more demanding surveys – surveys that necessitate thoughtful, and even occasionally long form, responses.
Take for example the Canadian Government. It used an online survey tool during its consultation on open government and open data. The experience was pretty good. Rather than a clunky government website, there was a relatively easy form to fill out. Better still, since the form was long, it was wonderful that you could save your answers and come back to it later! This mattered since some of the form’s questions prompted me to write lengthy (and hopefully) insightful responses.
But therein lies the rub. In the jargon of the social media world I was “creating content.” This wasn’t just about clicking boxes. I was writing. And surprisingly many of my answers were causing me to develop new ideas. I was excited! I wanted to take the content I had created and turn it into a blog post.
Sadly, most survey tools make it very, very hard for you to capture the content you’ve created. It feels like it would be relatively easy to have a “download my answers” button at the end of a survey. I mean, if I’ve taken 10-120 minutes to complete a survey or public consultation shouldn’t we make it easy for me to keep a record of my responses? Instead, I’ve got to copy and paste the questions, and my answers, into a text document as I go. And of course, I’d better decide that I want to do that before I start since some survey tools don’t allow you to go back and see previous answers.
I ultimately did convert my answers into a blog post (you can see it here), but there was about 20 minutes of cutting, pasting, figuring things out, and reformatting. And there was some content (like Semantic Differential questions – where you rate statements) which were simply to hard to replicate.
There are, of course, other uses too. I had a similar experience last week after being invited to complete a survey posted by the Open Government Partnership Steering Committee on its Independent Reporting Mechanism. About half way through filling it out some colleagues suggested we compare answers to better understand one another’s advice. A download your answer tool would have convert a 15 minute into a 10 second task. All to access content I created.
I’m not claiming this is the be all, end all of online survey features, but it is the kind of simple thing that I survey company can do that will cause some users to really fall in love with the service. To its credit SurveyMonkey was at least willing to acknowledge the feedback – just what you’d hope for from a company that specializes in soliciting opinion online! With luck, maybe the idea will go somewhere.