“When someone asks me to recycle, I burn three tires and empty a can of Aqua Net into the atmosphere.”
“I’ve been listening to Harry Potter in AudioBooks and read this entire questionnaire in a British accent.”
“I just wanted to let you know that I won’t be able to take this survey.”
Local governments often use community surveys to better understand what residents think of their city or town. Sometimes, a topic calls for an open-ended question or two. For NRC survey researchers who review, analyze and present the results, these types of questions can yield a few laughs when residents show their sense of humor.
When asked for ideas on improving green-space, some residents get quite creative. One resident asked for a greater variety of plants. “The City should include fruit trees and bushes in the parks. Enough so that people don’t fight [over] the fruit.”
In every community, Safety is ranked one of the very most important aspects of livability. One resident took a moment to express their appreciation for the local law enforcement. “Our cops are hot dogs and don’t fool around with trouble makers. If you come to this City, you’d better behave because the cops are watching and that’s just how I like it.”
Sometimes residents read the survey questions with great attention. A resident once shared their thoughts on our use of the word “email”. “Just so you know, ‘electronic mail’ could be ‘e-mail’, ‘Email’ or ‘email’.”
Community engagement professionals always look forward to receiving ideas on improving opportunities for Education and Enrichment. One resident suggested a few themes to consider. “The City should focus activities around children and dating/romantic activities. Separately, obviously.”
We love those moments when a survey response breaks up the work-day with a little fun. Both researchers and local government leaders truly appreciate every resident who takes the time to complete their community survey. Positive, negative or funny, every response ultimately leads to results that can be used to make the city or town a better place to live!
Here are a few tips on crafting open-ended survey questions that will get you the most useful responses:
Have a goal. Before you ask an open-ended question, make sure you and your stakeholders know why you are asking it and how you plan to use the results.
Avoid “Yes” or “No” questions. Open-ended questions are an opportunity to gain a little insight to the “Why” or “How” residents think about a topic. So a “Why” or “How” question will draw out a more thoughtful, useful answer.
Make the question simple and specific. To garner a useful response, it’s best to ensure that an open-ended question only asks about one, very specific issue. This will cut down on confusion and help residents give you the kind of feedback you really want to know.