Quantitative research & evaluation methods:
More than half of our work at Slover Linett falls into this category; surveys are the heart and soul of quantitative research. And despite the ubiquity of unscientific polls and opt-in surveys on the Internet, they are a specialized tool of the social sciences and require technical knowledge to design, administer, and interpret meaningfully. That’s why our team includes research methodologists with advanced academic training and abundant professional experience in survey research.
There are many types of survey sampling methods; the choice depends on the population you’re studying and other factors. The most common types in our practice are:
At theaters, orchestras, and dance companies, we put printed surveys on every third seat or hand them to patrons in the lobby with a verbal invitation to participate. At museums, we “intercept” a random subset of visitors, either offering pen-and-paper questionnaires or having our researchers ask the questions verbally. And those are just the indoor settings: we’ve pounded the pavements of Manhattan, interviewed beachgoers on their blankets, and surveyed tourists at urban attractions.
On-site surveys at your institution are great for learning about the audience you’re already attracting—who they are demographically, psychographically, and behaviorally. The same methods can also be used at off-site or partner locations to understand audiences you’re not (yet) drawing. The bottom line is that live, in-person surveys are a key element of many kinds of programming evaluations and marketing studies.
Your organization’s databases include email addresses for many important segments of your audience, from people who’ve registered for your e-newsletter or bought a few tickets to loyal subscribers, members, and donors. In the higher education world, the available emails include prospective students, current students, and alumni. These self-selected, already-affiliated audiences can be studied cost-effectively through online surveys, and the research itself can be a way of deepening the organization’s relationship with these individuals and giving them a voice.
Many organizations conduct their own web surveys, but they don't always have the staff time or expertise to guarantee high quality survey design, sampling methods or analysis. At Slover Linett, our electronic surveys are just as rigorously designed, fielded, and analyzed as our other work.
In today’s dizzyingly interconnected world, it may seem surprising that the best way to study a broad population is sometimes by phone. For instance, an arts organization may want to know how it’s perceived by the full potential audience in its metropolitan area. A university may want to know what “townies” want from its lifelong learning division. Or an aquarium might want to gauge the level of concern in its region about water issues.
Using random-digit-dialing (RDD) within a specified geographic area, we can sample the perceptions, opinions, and needs of the general public—or particular subsets—and draw statistically-valid inferences about the populations you serve. Slover Linett doesn’t operate its own survey call center; when we conduct phone surveys we work with one of our regular fieldwork partners that specializes in CATI (computer assisted telephone interviewing) fieldwork.
Depending on the audience you’re trying to study and the number and type of questions you need to ask them, the best survey method may be mailing a printed questionnaire, especially among populations for whom no email addresses were on file. When using a postal method among unaffiliated audiences, it’s best to include an appealing incentive to maximize response rates.
Some research studies require a mix of online, in-person, and phone surveys in order to get the desired response sample from all the segments of interest. Mixing survey modes can be time consuming and expensive, so it tends to be used on larger studies where scientific rigor is important.
For all types of surveys, the steps in the Slover Linett process are largely similar:
- define study objectives and research questions
- develop questionnaire and analytical plan
- pre-test with a small sample and refine
- collect data (fieldwork)
- monitor response rates, skews, missing data
- clean data recode variables as necessary
- perform analyses specified in analytical plan
- explore preliminary findings and plan follow-up analyses
- graphically illustrate key findings
- identify conclusions that address the initial objectives
- write recommendations
- present report for discussion
There’s plenty more to say about survey research for cultural and educational organizations. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.