FEATURE20 May 2009

Respondent engagement ‘key to better research data’

Features News Technology

Engage Research and GMI set out to tackle boring online surveys

UK— A new survey claims to have found the answer to two of the biggest questions in online research – how to keep respondents interested and how to get better data from surveys.

Engage Research and Global Market Insite (GMI) investigated how to get online respondents more involved with surveys by using a range of animations and role-playing techniques, and found that the use of methods like these could improve data volume and quality by more than 20%.

The duo started their survey with an animated introduction that they said led to respondents spending up to 80% more time answering follow up questions, when compared to a controlled survey with no animation or extra features.

Respondents then took part in a series of ‘role-playing’ scenarios, where they were asked to evaluate the impact of advertising from an ad agency perspective, or pretending they were in charge of a company launching a new product. Engage said that respondents spent up to 70% more time considering their answers when they were pretending to be someone else and the word count in their responses doubled.

The two firms also showed respondents examples of how other survey-takers had answered questions, which led to their answers doubling in length from 25 to 50 words compared to the answers for the same questions when no examples were shown.

Engage Research director Deborah Sleep told Researchthat the firm employed a method used in the Dutch education system to entertain respondents between questions. In this case, an animated character called Bob was used to provide light relief for participants by appearing intermittently throughout the survey.

Sleep said: “Essentially this piece of research was about getting more out of open-ended responses. Lots of people say they join panels to give their opinions but so many of the questions they are asked stifle them by asking for their opinions in a very structured way.”

She said the survey provided more actionable insights by giving respondents the space to express themselves. For example, she said, respondents could explain why they did not like an advert’s music, rather than simply saying whether they liked it or not.

Sleep said that the firm had already shown the survey results to clients, who have responded well to it. She said: “It is going down very, very well – it confirms a lot of things that I think clients already suspected [about the quality of data from more traditional, grid-question based questionnaires]. We've been asking questions this way for the last 10 years, so I think it is time to ask them differently.”

Looking ahead, Sleep said that she expects more surveys to be designed in this way and to see clients demanding more engaging surveys, despite the emergence of lower cost ‘DIY’ online research tools.

“I have experimented with DIY tools,” she said, “and as a researcher I don't think they offer anything comparable to what a good research agency can give you. You can go one of two routes – down the DIY route and accept that what you're going to get is incredibly cheap but I would argue not desperately cheerful, or, you actually look at things as if you were making a presentation to an internal audience of people you work with and make it look nice and make it engaging, because you know that’s the way you can tell a story and have your audience engage with you.

“We systematically send out surveys to thousands of people where we don't put any thought into what they look like and then wonder why respondents get bored with them. Ultimately if we don't engage with respondents they will stop doing research online and that’s not good for anybody.”

Author: James Verrinder