More (perceived) risk, more reward.

We're all susceptible to the survey's spell.

One of the channels I’ve set up in the SuperHelpful Slack group is #Research-Theater — It’s a place for us to discuss research fails and how members can steer their organizations toward better ways of understanding the people they want to support.

One member recently said that surveys are the default method for learning from their audiences in their organization. They wanted to know how they might encourage their colleagues to consider alternatives to surveys.

I’m still thinking about their question because it made me realize that I have talking points around surveys, but I’m not sure I have an answer. That is, I realized that I don’t have a go-to response that someone could use to make a colleague say, “Oh, yeah, why am I running this survey?” I’m not sure I’ll ever have a script I can share — a magic incantation that will make the surveying go away — but I can get better at talking about alternatives and challenges related to surveys.


So, I’m working on that.

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you all a flicker of an insight that emerged from our discussion.

Several of us agreed that people seem to freeze up when thinking about pursuing anything other than surveys. As soon as they start thinking about doing interviews, for example, they aren’t sure what they would ask in the interview.

I think we all agreed that was kind of funny — I mean, why are we more confident about coming up with survey questions? If anything, survey questions are even easier to screw up than interview questions — and unless you’re careful about testing your survey before distributing it broadly, there’s a much greater risk of botching things before you have a chance to course-correct.

Anyway, the discussion got me thinking about the relationship between social risk (or rather, as one Slack member pointed out, perceived social risk) and the amount you stand to learn from the research.

The greater the perceived social risk, the more you stand to gain.

Of course, that’s an oversimplification. If the question you hope to answer is a how-many/how-much question, then you’ll learn more from surveys. But often we issue surveys when what we really want to understand is something related to the quality of experience or the values and goals of the individual.

A few days later, I sent a survey to that same group of people, asking them to reflect on the quality of their experience in The Audience Progress Workshop. There’s a circle in hell with my name on it.

As always, reply to this email to let me know your thoughts or leave a comment on this post.


P.S. If you’re a paid list member, you’re welcome to join the Slack group. If you missed the invitation to join, just reply to this email with a thumbs-up and I’ll send you an invite. (All the Slack members are incredibly good looking, earn seven figures, and never wear the same outfit twice. You’ll fit right in.)

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