Going Virtual: Common Free Online Survey Tools

By Austin Barrett | Posted on March 16, 2023

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Park and recreation agencies exist to serve the public by providing high-quality parks and programming. To meet this charge, agencies regularly reach out to the public to ensure their services are meeting the needs of the community. One common approach to securing this kind of feedback is surveying. These surveys take a variety of different forms to serve a variety of different purposes, such as assessing customer satisfaction, community needs and program quality. The results from these surveys are helpful in setting the direction for future strategic decisions surrounding programming, operations and planning. 

The way surveying is done is changing — the sun has long been setting on paper-based surveys. In our increasingly digital world, the need for online survey tools has expanded in the past decade. This blog post is intended to provide park and recreation professionals with a quick overview of two free online survey tools: Google Forms and Microsoft Forms. If your agency needs more advanced features, the post also includes a list of subscription-based tools. 

Google Forms

Integrated into the Google family of products, Google Forms offers an impressive suite of features and functionality. The tool is free and only requires the creator to have a Google account. With over 1.8 billion active Google accounts around the world, access to Google Forms is widespread.   

  • Includes 11 different question types (e.g. multiple choice, checkbox, scale, grids). 
  • Provides built-in basic data visualization and can export data to Google Sheets for more tailored analysis. 
  • Allows for collaborative building and editing of Forms.  
  • Includes 20+ survey templates (including questions) to choose from. 
  • Is a familiar interface for respondents which could increase response rates.
  • Includes conditional logic to guide the respondent through the survey based on responses to previous answers.
  • Is limited in its ability to collect more complex data. 
  • Possesses limited ability to customize the “look and feel” of a survey. 
  • Does not include built-in QR code generator for survey sharing. 
  • Integrations are limited to Google-supported software. 

Learn more about Google Forms here.


Microsoft Forms

While available for free with a Microsoft account, Microsoft Forms also is included in the common Microsoft 365 subscriptions purchased for business, educational or personal purposes. If your organization is integrated with Microsoft, you likely have access to additional features included in Microsoft Forms.

  • Integrates with Microsoft 365 apps (such as Outlook, Teams, and SharePoint). 
  • Facilitates direct export of data to Microsoft Excel and its powerful tools for data analysis, cleaning, and charting/visualization. 
  • Allows for more flexible use of graphics and visual templates for designing a survey’s “look and feel.” 
  • Includes conditional logic to guide the respondent through the survey based on responses to previous answers. 
  • Possesses built-in QR code generation for survey sharing. 
  • Provides translation to make forms multi-lingual (verification of automated translation is strongly recommended). 
  • Can share a summary of responses report via a shareable link. 
  • Has a limited number of question types. 
  • Possesses limited collaboration capability for survey development. 
  • Limits surveys to 100 questions per survey.
  • Does not allow respondents to save forms to return to later or update their submissions. 

Learn more about Microsoft Forms here.


Other Online Survey Tools

While Google Forms and Microsoft Forms have great utility for basic survey data collection, their functionality is limited. If your agency needs more robust online survey tools, consider exploring these subscription-based tools listed below. Each tool includes extensive features related to survey design, collection of responses and data analysis/exporting 

Let us know how your park and recreation department is engaging your community through online surveys! Do you have any suggestions for your colleagues about survey tools you have been using? Feel free to leave a comment or reach out to NRPA’s Evaluation team directly: NRPAEval@nrpa.org

Austin Barrett (he/him) is an Evaluation Manager with NRPA. 

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