Mixed Mode Surveying: A best practice for increasing equity in public engagement

What is mixed-mode surveying?

Academics and researchers have long heralded “mixed-mode” surveying, the practice of using multiple methods to reach and engage participants, as a strategy to optimize data collection and reduce survey error [1].

Mixed mode surveying has also been found to:

  1. Increase participation among rural residents [2]
  2. Better engage populations over the age of 50 [3]
  3. And engage those who may not have reliable access to the Internet.

Today, forward-thinking public organizations are applying this strategy to increase engagement and get more representative participation.

Why use a mixed-mode surveying approach?

The widely-publicized decline of telephone surveying has hinted at a much broader problem: conducting outreach and surveying using only one communications channel almost guarantees biased results. In fact, this phenomenon undermines public engagement success for any organization leaning too heavily on any single format of engagement.

For example, only collecting input via an online survey is likely to yield a high degree of selection bias—especially if it requires a resident to already be engaged with an organization. However, if we can pair an online presence with in-person collection, text message surveys, and targeted social advertising, an organization has a much better chance at informing and engaging a broad, representative set of residents.

What this amounts to is using all the outreach methods at our disposal, traditional and virtual, to provide more residents an opportunity to engage – no matter where they are. This increased access, when scaled through technology that lowers barriers to participation, sums up the new paradigm of engagement: Meet people where they are.

Case study: ‘mixed-mode’ surveying yields representative input in Skagit County, WA

In a recent outreach effort in Skagit County, Washington, staff sought input on a transportation project focused on updating their ferry vessel and its operations in Guemes Island, a community of 600 people off the coast of Washington. Former Communications Coordinator Bronlea Mishler described the community as “very vocal”, predominantly elderly, and lacking reliable Internet access.

Normally, these conditions may lead to the common hurdles of low project participation or the loudest voices having the most influence on decision making.

Multiple methods were used to reach residents:

  • A poster at both sides of the ferry terminal with a scannable QR code
  • A news release to media with a link to the survey
  • A physical newsletter
  • An eNewsletter
  • Social media posts
  • In-person meetings with anonymous live participation and commenting

During the initial steps of public involvement, residents were educated on present results and encouraged to engage further.

“[The newsletters] talked about aspects of the project but also provided links to the survey and shared survey results so residents could see what their neighbors were saying,” said Mishler. “We had a number of public forum meetings where people were encouraged to take the survey.”

Examples of newsletter content:

Bridging the online-offline divide

In addition to in-person efforts and newsletters, Skagit County educated residents on the engagement page and survey itself, providing visual examples and downloadable background information on the project to gather more informed, meaningful feedback:

Results:

Skagit County’s survey results were captured in real time, question-by-question, and automatically reported:

This included comments from multiple channels, available for instant analysis, like this:

In our first survey, 60% of respondents said reliability is the most important thing Skagit County should consider when designing a new ferry. What is MOST important to you in terms of reliability?

Skagit County was also able to identify their reach: how many people took the survey, and exactly where they were located.

Of the 600 residents, 342 provided public input and Mishler pointed out that number probably includes even more, “considering that a couple may have taken the survey together as a household.”

The benefits of a CRM that operates as a public participation database

Given the benefits of mixed-mode surveying – combining online and in-person engagement – the question becomes “How then do you take in all this input and communication received through multiple methods, see the big picture, and have metrics for equity and inclusion?”

The solution is to avoid disjointed tools that silo off data and communication, and choose one that integrates all of it into one place so we can quickly and easily close the loop with residents.

Being able to consistently listen and close the feedback loop is a key benefit of an integrated software solution. By combining input and communication in a public participation database, public organizations are able to automate data collection and analysis, and greatly reduce the workload that comes from manually compiling survey data, survey comments, social media comments, and email communications.

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References cited in post:

  1. To Mix or Not to Mix Data Collection Modes in Surveys. Journal of Official Statistics, 21(2), 205, pp. 233–255
  2. Mixed-mode Surveys Compared with Single-mode surveys. Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 31(3), 2016, pp. 7–34
  3. Using Online and Paper Surveys: The Effectiveness of Mixed-Mode Methodology for Populations Over 50. Research On Aging, 35(2), 2012, pp. 220-240

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