Another dot in the blogosphere?

Lessons from a survey uncle

Posted on: September 21, 2015

Last Friday I took my son out for a treat at a fast food joint. We opted to try a special menu option that the restaurant offered. As we were among the few trying that option, a “survey uncle” asked me to participate in a poll.

The survey uncle was apologetic for interrupting our meal, but thankful that he had found me. He explained that he had trouble finding my “demographic” (read: old and with purchasing power) so I humoured him.

Survey on Obama’s Cairo Speech by Swamibu, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  Swamibu 

The survey was in only English and on an iPad. Participants also had to complete the survey on their own so that the poll was uninfluenced by the survey takers.

I remarked to the survey uncle that he was at the restaurant on the wrong day and time. It was Friday afternoon and kids in school uniforms probably outnumbered the adults 50 to 1. He informed me that it was the polling company’s decision to choose the survey period.

Here is lesson number 1: Listen to your stakeholders and learn about their habits. The company might think it knows better, but it does not.

The survey uncle also recognized that quite a few aunties and uncles in my age group and older 1) were not comfortable taking a survey on an iPad, and 2) did not understand the language of the poll. He had suggested to his bosses that an alternative survey be provided in Mandarin.

Lesson number 2: Listen to your troops on the ground because they are more aware of the issues. For example, the survey uncle realized that the kids around us only bought the cheaper meal items while those that went for the special menu were few and far between. He struggled to meet the quota so that the findings were at least statistically useful.

Lesson number 3: Reach out to your stakeholders in a manner they would be responsive to. As one size does not fit all, you are likely to need different approaches, e.g., in the survey context, this could mean using iPads, paper, and interviews.

The lessons apply to schooling and education. Policymakers and administrators might think they know better or see more from their vantage point. But as long as they are not on the ground, they cannot relate to issues that prevent new policies and change from taking root.

To be more effective, they need to listen to their stakeholders and teachers first. When they do reach out, it should be with a sympathetic and open ear first, not with a closed or iron fist.

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