The information that you need

Can a survey give you the information you need?

Be clear about what you want from your survey results. Are you looking for factual information? Are you interested in people's attitudes and opinions? Do you need a combination of both?

What you need to know should be guided by how you plan to use your survey outputs—for formulating policy, for research and development, for publicity, or for some other purpose. This will also help determine the kind of questions your survey asks.

To get the most meaningful survey results, define your information needs so that they are measureable and/or observable.

Avoid the expense of duplicating existing information. Once you know what information you need and how you plan to use it, explore alternative sources of information in case all or part of what you need is already available.

What kind of survey do you need?

Surveys are not "one-size-fits-all." The kind of survey that you choose depends on a combination of the amount, type, accuracy and scale of the information required. Here are some things to consider:

The amount of information you need:

  • Short answers to a small number of simple questions
  • Long answers with detailed content
  • Complex answers to complex subjects

The type of information you need:

  • Public opinions and attitudes
  • Facts about social or economic events

The level of accuracy you need:

  • A quick, but reasonable, approximation
  • Highly precise estimates

The scale of responses you need:

  • Survey estimates for the total population at a single level of aggregation such as the nation, a province or a municipality
  • Detailed information broken down into categories such as location or age
  • Information about a specific sector such as business, agriculture or some other distinct population

All of the above can help you determine the kind of survey you need and the survey organization best positioned to provide it.

Who can provide the survey?

No single survey provider will be the best choice for all the possible types of surveys. Know what kind, and what quality, of information you need before you approach a survey provider. And, know what services the provider can deliver.

  • If your data needs are simple, or if you want information on public opinions, then a provider that can deliver the basics at low cost may be a good option.
  • If you need highly accurate, detailed socio-economic information with in-depth analysis, the services of a large firm or a national or provincial statistics office would be more suitable.
  • Some organizations conduct omnibus surveys with regular collection cycles to which a client can add a modest number of questions for a relatively low cost.
  • If you are interested in quick pulse-taking on current topics, there are organizations that can act quickly. Some do so by maintaining continuing panels of respondents so be cautious: These panels are often subject to weaknesses that make them inappropriate for providing detailed data.

Find out if the survey provider possesses the full range of skills, infrastructure and experience to deliver the results and quality you need. The survey provider should have the capacity to carry out all the survey steps from planning and design through to data collection and analysis, at an acceptable cost.

Find out to what extent the survey provider will support you in the analysis of the results, their interpretation and use, and documentation. The survey provider should provide you with sufficient support after the survey to ensure you can use the results to meet your needs.

How involved should you be? Verify the degree of direct participation your team will have in the different steps of the survey process. You may even decide to do the survey yourself and would need advice with only certain parts of the process.

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