This post was written by Neil Basu, a Latitude alum. 

Online surveys continue to be an inexpensive and efficient tool for collecting data. However, increasingly companies struggle with data quality issues and concerns about the accuracy of self-reported data. Even still, surveys remain an essential tool for understanding different audiences at scale.

How, then, to enhance the quality of data produced by surveys—to make that data more true-to-life and inspire companies to action? The answer, simply put, is to place a higher value in each individual’s contribution to a survey. Data is valuable when it is personal; a participant’s data represents their identity, behaviors, attitudes, preferences—all important information for brands.

Here are just a few ideas for centering surveys on the individual:

  • Add game elements and projective exercises. Instead of asking how much value someone places on various store items, give people a theoretical allowance and ask them to spend it. Games engage people actively, providing more realistic scenarios in many cases and encouraging participants to think more deeply even about more straight-forward questions that follow.
  • Give people more media to respond to. Text-only surveys are outdated. In a hyper-saturated media culture, individuals are used to forming impressions and making judgments based on pictures and video all the time. Media-rich surveys present an opportunity for research scenarios to imitate life more accurately and offer a greater sense of immersion.
  • Provide feedback instantly and interactively. On sports websites, for instance, people are typically rewarded for answering a web poll with a screen that shows them how their answers compare to a larger population. Simple indulgences like interactive feedback will give survey participants a reason to think carefully about each question—because giving accurate responses means an opportunity to learn something about themselves, such as how they compare to other fans or users.

This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it is certainly a start. Designing surveys with the individual in mind produces higher quality data. Individuals are more engaged; the scenarios presented to them are more realistic; and, in some cases, they’re invested in the immediate outcome (such as knowing how they measured up with other participants).

Of course, the value of human-centric surveys is contingent on the research need. That is, when a company is seeking short answers to a few very simple questions, the value of improving the participant experience may be less. On the other hand, for explorations that are designed to generate ideas or to provide creative, deep-dive feedback, it’s worth ensuring that the participant is truly engaged and enjoying the experience.