Stakeholder Communication Strategies: Survey Data

Ask eAIR invites questions from AIR members about the work of institutional research, careers in the field, and other broad topics that resonate with a large cross-section of readers. Questions may be submitted to

This month’s question is answered by Cinnamon Danube, Principal Analyst, Institutional Research and Decision Support, University of California, Merced.

The ideas, opinions, and perspectives expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily AIR. Members are invited to join the discussion by commenting at the end of the article.

CinnamonD.jpgDear Cinnamon: What are some strategies for communicating with stakeholders about survey data that fits their needs for producing reports and decision making?

When working on an institutional survey project, I always (1) operate under the assumption that survey data should be shared as widely as possible with those on campus who might find it useful and (2) consider stakeholder involvement in each step of the survey process rather than just at the end when producing reports. Taking a holistic approach is critical to making sure that the data you collect will be maximally useful to your stakeholders, and it is also helpful for getting stakeholders involved throughout the process, including with promoting the survey on campus to boost response rates. There are a few specific strategies that I find effective:

Know your stakeholders: The first and most important aspect of communication is identifying your audience – your survey stakeholders. I find that the number of stakeholders interested in the data for a particular survey can be quite broad. For example, you would typically work with Alumni Affairs on an alumni survey; however, Deans and faculty, Career Center staff, Communications staff, and Student Affairs staff are also interested in alumni data. You can reach out to potential stakeholders directly, and if you have an assessment or survey users group on your campus, this is also a good place to start. Assessment group members may be stakeholders or can potentially direct you to others who would be interested in the data. For example, UC Merced has a Campus Working Group on Assessment, which is comprised of staff from across the university who are involved in assessment and analytic projects.

An additional benefit of identifying stakeholders is garnering their support for promoting and encouraging students to take a survey. For example, knowing that they will receive data needed to provide indirect evidence of the effectiveness of their major programs, the faculty help promote our Graduating Senior survey to students. Stakeholder support helps to ensure that the campus collects valuable data and obtains large enough response rates to ensure the data is useful and generalizable.

Know what questions your stakeholders are trying to answer: Identify the questions that are currently the most interesting to your stakeholders so you can develop surveys and survey reports that address those questions. You can follow current hot topics in Higher Education by reading sources such as the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Education, by talking to your colleagues in institutional research, and by asking your stakeholders directly. This process looks a bit different depending on whether you are in the survey development or reporting stage. In the development stage, you can share and collect feedback on the survey instrument so you know whether it can answer questions of interest in the reporting stage. In the reporting stage, you can produce reports from the survey data to answer those questions. Again, having an assessment group on campus is very helpful. I often share survey instruments and reports with the assessment group to get feedback and so they know what data is available to them and others who might be interested. In turn, the assessment group lets me know what specific reports would be useful to them in their roles on campus or to others with whom they work so I know what reports to produce and with whom to share them.

Help your stakeholders answer questions on their own with effective data visualizations: When possible, create self-service options for reporting so that stakeholders can answer questions on their own. This can also reduce the number of data requests your office receives. For example, I often produce one electronic version of a report that contains all respondents, but then I explain how to use filters to examine the responses for different groups of students for comparative purposes. I accomplish this using Qualtrics Reporting (the survey tool UCM uses), but this could also be accomplished via other dashboard (e.g., Tableau) and reporting tools.




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