How to Help Surveys Have More Impact


(Statistics Views)

A survey with checkboxes for either agreeing or disagreeing

Photo by Tjanze/iStock

by Catherine L. Saunders

October 16, 2015

Surveys are used in evaluation and research across exceptionally diverse contexts. In health services research, the reason that doctors most frequently give for not acting on the findings of patient experience surveys—questionnaires that ask people questions about their healthcare—is that they just don't believe that the findings are correct or valid. In international evaluation contexts, the quality of survey data is often cited as a challenge to the validity of the work, the reason not to act on the findings. In epidemiological research, concerns have been raised about surveys with sample sizes from under 10 respondents to over a million.

Why do surveys provoke so much cynicism?

A dose of skepticism is healthy when surveys have high-stakes uses, such as when findings are linked to financial incentives, or major programme changes and reviews. With good reason, appropriate caution is required when using findings in these contexts....

The remainder of this commentary is available at

Catherine Saunders is an analyst and statistician at RAND Europe.

This commentary originally appeared on Statistics Views on October 16, 2015. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.