Surveys are a useful way to gauge the opinions of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's (EERE's) target audiences. However, surveys require several levels of approvals. First, surveys need EERE's Web Governance Team approval. In addition, they often need approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which can take several months to complete.
Why Use Surveys?
While there are many techniques available to help us learn about users, surveys are a great choice when you:
- Want feedback from a wide range of customers
- Need a technique that is relatively time- and cost-efficient
- Want to automate the data collection process.
Surveys can help you answer questions such as:
- Who is using the product or service?
- What are they trying to accomplish with the product or service?
- How satisfied are they with the product or service?
- How can we improve the product or service?
However, surveys also have the following limitations:
- Reliability is less certain due to an inability to control who responds to surveys. Thus, the reliability of the data can be more difficult to establish than with other methods.
- Answers rely on memory. What people remember isn't always completely accurate.
- There are no opportunities for follow up. Surveys don't allow for follow up on the answers people give.
- It's hard to learn about specific usability issues. What users say they do and what they actually do are often very different.
To account for the limitations of surveys, they are often paired with other methods of collecting feedback such as interviews, focus groups, and usability tests in order to get a complete picture of users, their behavior, and their motivations for using a product or service.
Developing a Survey
Decide What Size of Survey You Need
Any survey that polls more than 10 members of the public will need to get approval from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). A member of the public is any individual who is not employed by the federal government. Surveys of less than 10 individuals can be posted as soon as they have been approved by the Web Governance Team (WGT).
The OMB approval process can take one of two tracks—the fast track process that results in a faster approval, or the regular submission process that will require public notification in the Federal Register.
Surveys that require OMB review via the fast track process can take up to 3 months to get approval. Surveys that are not approved for fast track can take considerably longer.
Planning Your Survey
When you start planning your survey, there are several questions to consider to make it effective:
- What is the purpose of my survey? Understanding what you hope to get out of your survey will help you choose the right questions.
- How long does it need to be? The length of your survey will depend on your audience, the subject, your purpose, and the nature of your questions. As a rule of thumb, we recommend limiting your survey to 15 questions or less to improve completion rates.
- When should I run it? Avoid low traffic times, or times you know are very busy for your audience. If there are seasonal events that affect your Web traffic, you may want to take that into account when scheduling your survey.
- How long should I run it? Decide how many participants you need to have in order to feel confident in the survey results, and then run it until you hit the quota you want. Typically, we run our qualitative surveys until the answer percentages for key questions begin to stabilize (often three to six weeks).
- How will I advertise it? It's important to ensure that the right people are filling out your survey—so choose your recruiting methods appropriately. Often, we advertise our surveys via our website and/or through appropriate listservs. Be sure to consider how ways you advertise your survey could bias your survey results.
- What approvals do I need to plan for? You'll need approval from the Web Governance Team and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Learn more about getting the necessary approvals.
Writing Your Survey
When writing survey questions, follow these best practices:
- Ask simple questions using clear language.
- Ask your most important questions first.
- Ask for only the data you really need and will use.
- Ask questions in a format that you can analyze. Open-ended questions can be valuable for explanations and learning the vocabulary of the users, but are hard to analyze; limit the number of open-ended questions to only those you really need.
- Break your survey into multiple pages. That way, if participants leave the survey early, data for pages they complete will be saved.
Personally Identifiable Information
Only collect Personally Identifiable Information (PII), such as email, phone number, or address, if you need it for analysis. Any PII you collect must be stored on a Department of Energy server that has been certified and accredited.
Getting Approval for your Survey
Before you code your survey, you will need to get approval to run it.
The Web Governance Team
Your first review will be with the Web Governance Team (WGT). You'll need to submit two forms:
- The User-Centered Design Project Information Form
- Your final list of questions.
Send these to the Web Governance Team Facilitator. During your WGT meeting, you'll be asked to explain your project, your questions, your stakeholders, your costs, the number and type of participants, and the amount of PII you'll be gathering. (Note that you only need to attend one WGT meeting to get that team's approval.)
The WGT will give you its initial approval and will confirm whether you need DOE's Chief Information Office and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval. They will also estimate, based on their past experience, whether your survey might qualify for OMB's Fast Track process.
If your survey does not require OMB approval, you can code your survey after this meeting.
The Office of Management and Budget
If your survey does require approval from OMB, follow the instructions on the Paperwork Reduction Act page.
Building Your Survey
Once you have approval from the WGT and OMB (if needed) you can code your survey.
EERE typically uses Alchemer (formerly called Survey Gizmo) or Survey Monkey, which collect and aggregate the results of your survey for you automatically. These software programs also offer features for analyzing the data, including the ability to run custom reports, cross reference questions, create charts, and combine data sets. Learn more about these tools and how to use them.
Contact the Web Governance Team Facilitator if you'd like to have your survey built in Alchemer or Survey Monkey. You will be provided access to the tool to edit your questions and run reports after the data is collected.