Let them shine

May 26, 2006

I was recently asked to participate in a survey by a by post graduate student who is investigating blogging. It involved me ticking a series of multiple choice answers in response to around 30 questions. I’m always keen to offer what ever wisdom I’ve picked up after nearly 3 years of blogging so off I went with my cyber pen in hand.  After getting thorough about half of the survey I found myself getting tense and agitated.
“It’s only a survey” I kept telling myself – what’s the problem?”
The “problem” was the way in which the questions were framed. Closed questions, limited pre-ordained answers and no context.. My agitation arose from feeling like I was being channelled in a direction that had nothing to do with my experience and everything to do with the interests of the researcher. (I hasten to add this was all in my own mind and not a criticism of the individual researcher).
I’m currently doing my own PhD research which is predicated on qualitative interviewing i.e. lots of open questions and data that I will have to hand code and interpret. No computer programme is going to do the work for me. My open questions are generating the most extraordinary insights from the people who are graciously giving me their time. After comepleting the survey above, I wondered what kind of impact a closed questioning approach would have on my research participants, if my experience of the online survey is anything to go by. My hypothesis is that they would have felt agitated; limited in their ability to reply and less generous in their responses. I know that’s how I felt 50% of the way through the survey. I felt as though “I” didn’t matter but whatever data I might have gathered would. All in all, a depersonalising experience.I can’t emphasise enough the importance I place on personalising my engagements with clients, research participants and others…If it’s not about what happens between us – then we should just “Phone it in”. There’s no point in being in a room with someone, or asking them to participate in something we’ve originated if we’re not that interested in making it possible for them to shine.
I didn’t “shine” in the online survey, but it’s given me a good lesson in how to ensure my research participants do.

4 People reacted on this

  1. It’s good to see someone spell out one of the key problems of pre-coded questionnaires. Being put throught the ringer by a machine. I think you have been critical of the researcher’s method.

  2. Well it’s less the researcher’s method and more my difficulty with questionnaires! I think questionnaires are useful for quantitative research (my own preferences are showing more so than anything else here I’m afraid).

  3. Research like that seems less about learning…and more about confirming (the researchers presupposed answers). We see this a lot with clients who offer their questions for a survey. In some cases it’s pretty clear they’re after confirmation of their pet solutions rather than hear what’s out there. Good catch; I hope you fed back to the researcher how manipulative his/her survey was.

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