The Limitations of Surveying

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Key Insights:

  1. What is it you’re survey is focusing on? Is it just quick feedback about a process or service you want, e.g.: bars or catering, or are you trying to understand how fans feel about something more integral, e.g.: whether the club’s communication with them is effective?  
  2. Could you collaborate with your supporters’ trust/independent supporters’ group to ensure the most appropriate questions are asked (like the SD Scotland/SFS/SPFL annual survey)?
  3. Understand the limits of surveying, and always look for opportunities to drill down into responses more deeply, e.g.: by hosting a focus group or fans forum to look at the themes that might have emerged from the survey
Surveying is an good way of gaining insight into what stakeholders, service users or customers think about a service or product. They have proliferated in recent years as part of the follow-up via text after a call to a service centre, or email or web-browser after accessing a website.
Longer surveys of users, customers or stakeholders can provide more detail depending the issue. In the case of football clubs, some carry out regular, annual surveying.
Open or closed
It’s also important to ensure that the right kind of questions are asked. There are two forms of questions when you’re surveying: open and closed. ‘Closed’ keeps the responses down to basic ‘yes/no’ or a limited choice of options (see below). They are easy & quick to answer, and keep control of the conversation with the questioner, and they can also be more easily analysed for a report. This can be helpful if you want people to focus on a very specific issue or theme, or need a quick turnaround on a particular issue (a change of beer provider for example)
Closed Survey Example
‘Open’ provides the ability to respond in more detail to a question (below). These require more thought and reflection, ask the respondent to think and reflect, will give you an idea of how people feel and what their opinions are, and, most importantly, they hand more control of the conversation to the respondent. They are an important format if you want to delve into some of the bigger issues that closed questioning can’t pick up.
  • Thinking about the catering options at The Stadium (the Main Bar, Main Stand Catering, East Stand Catering and South Stand Catering only), are there any specific food or drink options that you would like sold in future?

So what should your choice be as a club? Whether you choose open, closed or a mixture of both, a good example of how to use surveying as part of a process of Fan Engagement is seen with Bristol Rovers.

Rovers survey to inform and shape their services and more general Fan Engagement work, covering many aspects of the club. The actual survey is sent twice annually, first after the end of the season, reviewing performance, then followed up in January to assess how the various areas have progressed, with the feedback actioned.

Both surveys have an option for supporters to register for a follow-up forum, with those interested given first refusal and then it open to all supporters who would like to attend. This acts as a way of sifting the issues (through the actual surveying), and provides a way of drilling down into more detail with forums. Forums as part of an overall process add an excellent way of confidence building, showing fans that you’re not just hearing what they say, but being prepared to listen and change – the very essence of two-way dialogue.

In some cases national bodies and leagues carry out surveying. A good example is in Scotland, where The SPFL (Scottish Professional Football League), The SFA (Scottish Football Association) and SD Scotland carry out a joint annual survey covering value for money, matchday experience and fan engagement.
The survey itself has been running since 2012, and has directly fed into the process of decision making in the  Scottish football (see below). Evidence of what a survey actually achieves is important, otherwise the risk is that it’s seen as just a a box-ticking exercise.
From the Scottish Supporters Survey website

Know your limits
However, it is important to understand that on its own, surveying has its limits. Listening to fans through structured dialogue, ad-hoc conversations by walking the stadium, or by conversing online, add more colour, and enable more immediate feedback and problem solving.

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