Emma Thompson, Director
Last month we postulated the future of the member survey: what benefit is there to conducting a full survey of your members when you can now collect data in so many other ways? Our conclusion: surveys remain a useful tool for building knowledge of your membership and delivering insight on members behaviours and attitudes towards their organisation.
Getting into the detail
Surveys are predominantly quantitative, providing you with the numbers that validate your plans, giving you direction for your next product development or enabling you to track progress using carefully calculated metrics. A survey may contain some open questions, asking your audience to offer alternative responses, explain the reasoning behind the rating they have given or inviting them to comment freely about what they think or need from the organisation.
Using surveys, CRM and other data, we can establish what stakeholders do, when, some of the how and a little of the why. Now this is where qualitative research comes in: qualitative insight is essential to help you understand the detail of how and the reasons why audiences exhibit the observed behaviours and attitudes. How they use your services; why they might consider your competitors instead; why an online training course works better for them than a trip to the city; how you could help them day-to-day or progress their career.
A myriad of methods
There are many ways of gathering the deeper knowledge and understanding you need. And with the rise in availability of data and technology, there is discussion and debate over what constitutes quantitative and qualitative methodology. This blog article from Ray Poynter summarises.
Traditionally, commonly used qualitative approaches are discussion or focus groups and interviews - either face to face or by phone. A small number of individuals with characteristics that match the requirements of the insight are selected to participate.
Focus groups can be logistically challenging to organise, but getting the right mix of people in a room for a couple of hours (with unlimited tea, coffee and biscuits!) can provide the rich insight you need on your topic – and discussions may uncover some other angles you weren’t expecting.
Semi-depth or depth telephone interviews (the former with some structured questioning, the latter more exploratory) are relatively easy to organise and conduct, and - depending on the resources you have available - can reach a larger sample of individuals for comparatively less cost than focus groups.
Using external moderators and interviewers brings independence and clarity to the process, avoiding any bias that organisation staff may unintentionally introduce. But good insight can also be gathered in-house using simple methods, such as asking staff to call a sample of new joiners, upgraders or lapsers on a regular basis with a straightforward question set.
Which comes first? The quant or the qual…
Sometimes the survey comes first, and is followed by a focused qualitative study to explore the details behind the numbers. For example, your survey may tell you that members in a younger age group aren’t using the online version of the journal you developed. Why not: you thought it would suit them better than the paper copy? Is there a problem with the new method of delivery, or is it something else…?
Other times, some qualitative insight is needed upfront, to understand a situation from the members’ point of view, and help you draft an appropriate survey question. For example, you know funding cuts in the sector might mean that fewer members can afford to attend CPD events. But what are the real issues, and what could the organisation do to make CPD more accessible? Ask a small panel then put the possibilities they identify to the whole membership in the next survey to see which solutions are most likely to work.
A quantitative member survey will provide you with numbers, measurement and a vast array of information about what your target audiences do, think and feel. And careful analysis will enable you to establish some of the motivations.
By taking the right approach to gathering more detailed insight, you’re not only obtaining a richer understanding of motivations and reasons why, you’re also actively demonstrating the organisations interest in its members’ points of view and working more collaboratively – which in itself brings huge benefits.