The NRPA Research team aims to identify data that help park and recreation agencies more effectively serve all members of their communities and to help park and rec professionals and advocates make the case for greater, more stable funding. A major source of the data we share in the Agency Performance Review, 2019 Engagement with Parks report and NRPA Park Pulse comes from surveys we conduct or have commissioned.
NRPA also surveys its members and attendees of the annual conference and other events to gauge overall satisfaction and identify opportunities for improvement. Receiving and analyzing constructive feedback are vital to any organization that strives for continual improvement and long-term growth. This is no less true for park and recreation agencies.
Developing strong community feedback loops is critical for park and recreation agencies seeking to meet the ever-evolving needs and desires of the public. This feedback is a piece of the puzzle that leads to higher-quality park and recreation amenities and programming attuned to local needs. Even more so, highly engaged and satisfied residents are your agency’s greatest advocates. They not only will encourage their family, friends and neighbors to use your agency’s amenities, but also will push local political leaders to support that greater, more stable funding for your agency’s operations.
Online survey tools, such as Survey Monkey and Survey Gizmo, are an easy, cost-effective way to collect and analyze feedback data from the users and participants of your agency’s amenities and services. But conducting an effective survey is about more than entering questions into one of these survey tools and posting a link on your agency’s website. Choosing the appropriate questions, identifying how to reach respondents and acting on what you learn from the collected data all define a successful feedback survey.
Collecting Feedback from Park and Rec Users
Some park and recreation agencies benefit from having a full-time analyst to conduct and analyze customer feedback surveys. But other agencies without a full-fledged market research operation can still collect useful customer feedback.
To help, the NRPA Research team created the Customer Feedback Surveys Resource Center to provide park and recreation professionals with key principles and tips for conducting effective customer satisfaction surveys. This online resource focuses on collecting actionable feedback while keeping your agency’s time, money, staffing and current survey skills in mind.
The Customer Feedback Surveys Resource Center walks you through the survey process in four major steps:
Set the survey goals: Having clearly defined research goals is key to any successful customer feedback survey. Hence, the first step of any research project is to set these goals so you can use them as the basis for every other decision you make during the survey process. Consider what you want to accomplish with the project to inform what you need to learn from the survey.
Create the survey: You will want to design the survey questionnaire to generate actionable data. At the same time, you should aim for respondents to have a high-quality customer experience when completing the survey. Hence, respect your customers’ time by keeping the questions (and the survey as a whole) short and to the point.
Conduct the survey: There is no single optimal method to conduct a survey. Indeed, the goals of the survey should inform the decision whether to conduct it electronically, on paper or in person. Common survey methods include email, postcard, canvassing a public event/park/recreation center, website and door-to-door interview. Each method has its own set of pros and cons that will inform your decision on which to choose.
Use the data: If and how you conduct a feedback survey do not matter if you do not use the results afterward. Identify how best to use the research findings both inside and outside your organization to improve your agency and its programming. Sharing data externally is also an effective way for your agency to celebrate and broadcast its successes and communicate upcoming changes to the public.
Respect Their Time
Keep your feedback surveys short so residents can complete them in only a few minutes. Only include questions that will elicit the information you most need to learn (go back to your survey’s goals in step one to keep the questionnaire focused). Be clear on how you will use the responses to each question — if you cannot identify an action you would take based on a question’s response, consider removing it from the survey.
Ensure that the survey questions are accessible to the target audience, using their language. Design your survey questions to be brief, specific and free of jargon and other words that your residents may find unfamiliar or off-putting.
Become familiar with your agency’s and jurisdiction’s privacy policies. When possible, avoid collecting survey respondents’ personally identifiable information. And, if you must collect this type of information, put safeguards in place to ensure data security.
Resource Center Additions
The Customer Feedback Survey Resource Center is only the first element of a wider suite of tools we will be rolling out to help park and recreation professionals collect actionable information from and about residents. Additions to the resource center will cover a wide range of topics all related to how you can use data to inform your work in a relevant, resource-conscious way. Each tool — including those on community needs assessment and measuring agency’s program performance — will be easy to use and will not require expert-level experience. Potential resources in the future will center around Community Needs Assessments and Measuring Your Agency’s Program Performance. Keep a watch out for the next installment.
Kevin Roth, Ph.D., is NRPA's Vice President of Professional Development, Research and Technology.