Surveys are a commonly used method to gather quantitative data on the target population and outcomes.

There are strengths and limitations of collecting data with surveys. Learn more here.
Types of surveys

You may wish to ask participants to complete surveys before and after the program (pre/post) or only after program participation (post-program). Each approach has pros and cons. Learn more here .

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Administering surveys

Surveys may be filled out by participants or administered by an interviewer. Read more to decide which method would work best for your participants.

Choosing or creating a survey

Although commonly used, surveys can be very difficult to design well. To avoid common survey design pitfalls:
  • Work with an evaluation professional to choose or create your survey
  • If choosing an existing survey: Use a survey that has been previously tested and has known reliability and validity
  • If creating or adapting a survey: Use the suggestions in this toolkit to design your own survey or tailor an existing survey to your program and target population, including the resources below

Developing Strong Survey Questions

Ensure that your questions are as clear and concise as possible:

Use simple language. If you need to use a term that is unique to your program or otherwise less commonly used, provide a short definition.

Avoid asking more than one question at a time. Avoid using “and” and “or” in constructing survey questions. Even if two ideas seem very related, make them into two questions. This makes the survey easier to fill out, and prevents you from wondering later what the respondent meant in their answer.

Avoid leading questions. Consider the question: How have family members responded to your increased commitment to conservation? This presupposes the participant has an increased commitment to conservation, which is an assumption that may not be true. Leading questions bias your results.

Make your survey accessible and appropriate

  • Age: If you are surveying young children, make sure that your language is simple and short. Consider surveys that use pictures or smiley faces to indicate satisfaction.
  • Education and/or English ability: For participants with limited English ability or literacy, make sure the language is appropriate. If possible, offer the survey in the language most commonly spoken by participants.
  • Sensitive topics: If a topic you are asking about is sensitive to your audience, take extra care with question phrasing and response options. Include an “Additional Response/Other” option with a “Please Specify” open-ended space to make sure respondents are able to answer in their own words.

Make the survey easy to understand and complete

  • Keep the survey as short as possible. This will help keep respondents engaged and more likely to complete the whole survey.
  • Pilot test. Test your survey with a few participants to make sure all questions and response options are clear. Revise confusing or difficult questions before you administer the survey to all program participants.
  • If the survey is self-administered, provide clear instructions. Tell participants how to complete the survey. Explain the survey scale(s), how the data you are collecting will be used, and how information will be handled (these points should also be well articulated in interviewer-administered surveys).
  • If the survey is self-administered, use attractive fonts, colorful paper, and pay attention to layout. Surveys printed on brightly colored paper generate higher responses. Use fun font types or colors for young people, and make sure that content is not too crowded on each page. Font color, spacing, and formatting changes are options available on many online survey platforms as well.

Connecting Survey Questions to Your Measurement Plan

Be sure to read about Principles for Developing Strong Survey Questions before your draft your survey questions.

Make sure each question you include in your survey addresses a specific aspect of your Learning Questions and Theory of Change. Review your Theory of Change, worksheets, and Measurement Plan to craft questions that can be directly tied back to your process and outcome metrics.

This table can help you use your Theory of Change outcomes and metrics to determine your survey questions:

Check out these examples to help you create survey questions based on your outcomes and metrics. These are examples of possible post-program survey questions, and are targeted to a middle to high school-aged program.

Click on the image below to access the
Environmental Stewardship Survey Example 2C.