User Group Best Practices: Feedback Facilitation

A common challenge for any user group is delivering on the wants and needs of the membership. Sure, a group’s tone is often set by the leader(s). That can be a very good thing of the leader’s orientation is similar to that of the group members, but can limit or even damage the group if the aim is too high, too low, or simply off the mark.

Gathering feedback from your members should be at least an annual activity. You will stay in closer touch with what their interests are, understand the general levels of expertise, and will be able to make your group’s meeting topics, web site, publication(s) and any other offerings a greater value. That translates into better membership retention and more benefits to attract new members.

Barriers to Success
Accomplishing this obvious task is another matter. If you ask for feedback at your meeting, a hush usually falls over the meeting and everyone is suddenly very interested in their shoes. Some are afraid to speak up in front of a group for fear of being in the minority. Others don’t want to appear ignorant; they may feel inferior to the rest of the group (in spite of the fact that there are probably plenty of other people in the room with the same question or comment). And then there’s the old user group joke, with plenty of truth behind it, that if you make a suggestion, you are suddenly in charge of the project…whether you wanted to be or not.

You might pass out paper surveys, or even include them in your newsletter. One problem with this approach is that there is still a boring form to fill out and return. Another is that you have handwriting legibility issues to deal with. Finally, you will need to aggregate the results into something useable, especially if you used a multiple choice format to cut down on the chicken scratch problem.

Getting It Done
What’s the solution? On online survey! You don’t even have to chain your webmaster to a chair to create one. There are a variety of survey services on the Internet that offer all the capabilities you need, many for free.

There are multiple benefits to this approach. Distribute the link to your survey in your newsletter, as a clickable URL in an email to your members, or even in the electronic version of your newsletter (text or PDF), and as a link on your web site. An iBook or PowerBook set up in a corner of your meeting space will allow attendees to complete the survey while attending. With all these options for publicity of your survey, better participation is guaranteed.

The answers are also likely be more substantive. Because a respondent can type their answers, you are less likely to get those annoying one or two word answers that leave you more curious than informed.

Add in the ability to create multiple choice and ranking questions and the survey can actually be fun to complete.

Be sure to tout the fact that all answers are anonymous, but include a place for a name and email address, in case the volunteer spirit moves someone as they are giving you their information.

You might even consider taking a page from The MUG Center and do a new survey question every month. Your members stay involved and you stay informed. If you can get members in the habit of providing feedback, your percentage return goes up again.

The Results Are In
When the time comes to analyze the results, the survey service has already done the aggregation work for you, in numbers and percentages. Just log in to your account and start analyzing.

Share the results with the rest of your leadership team by giving them the service password, taking screen shots, or, if you opted for a paid service level, export them to an Excel spreadsheet for further study and manipulation

Choosing A Service
What service to use? Do a Google search to find a wide variety, but our choices are Survey Galaxy, Zoomerang, and our favorite, Survey Monkey.

We like Survey Monkey because it allows up to 100 responses in one survey under the free account, has a clean, easy to understand interface and produces surveys that are not intimidating. Upgrading to a paid account won’t lose any of your existing surveys or results, gives you the export to Excel option, and provides customization options in the form of logo inclusion, custom color schemes and more. Answer our latest TMC Survey question (found at the top of our ad bar on the right hand side of any page on The MUG Center) to see what a Survey Monkey Survey looks like.

No matter which service you use, be sure it accommodates your needs and offers plenty of flexibility.

Get Your Members Involved
Present the results of your survey at a meeting, or every meeting, if you make your questions a monthly activity. Your membership stays involved in the process, and will help you develop future questions. (Hint: People are much more willing to provide questions than answers.)

Take the participation concept a step farther by making the creation of a new survey or survey question a demo at an upcoming meeting. Reinforce the importance of responding, walk through the process to demonstrate the ease of answering, and introduce your members to a new service they might benefit from at their work or in other activities. Truly a win, win, win scenario.

The Bottom Line
Like any business, a successful user group will only benefit from information on what the “customers” want. Finding ways to involve your members can start with something as simple as an online survey.

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