The Choice Support charity blog on how to write questionnaires that improve services.
Choice Support provides support to over 900 individuals nationally with a wide range of needs and issues. From its very beginning, Choice Support has always invested in developing long term relationships with the people we support and their friends and families, to improve the quality of their lives and of the support provided. Listening to, and learning from people and their families drives us to keep innovating and improving what we do. Quality is at the core of our work and our main concern.
"Quality is our business - we ask questions that help us to improve."
Freelance consultant Eve Hersov has worked with the Involvement Team at Choice Support since 2011 to create a multi-faceted approach to surveying quality that includes the views of people we support, families, and staff. Over the years we have learnt a lot about best practice and now favour a broad methodology. Our quality survey includes both a questionnaire and direct face-to-face contact with people in meetings and forums. Each of these elements gives us essential context and content. The development of the survey questions is the most important element of the process. We aim to keep the questionnaire short, and we invest considerable time and thought to create questions that have clear purpose, and which use words, images and symbols that are easily understood.
It has proven ideal to limit our survey to three key qualitative themes as this helps to keep the survey focussed. We humanise the process by phrasing questions sensitively and by asking about “life” in a manner that applies to anyone. For example, in our latest questionnaire we asked, “Have there been any changes – good or bad – in your life that you want to tell us about? This question clearly indicated how many people have experienced the death of someone close to them or a significant loss in health or mobility. “Yes, I lost my nan and grandad and it affected my mental health for some time although I am recovered now.” “Yes, epilepsy and diabetes.” “Yes, I have problems with my eyes so I now use a white stick when I go out walking. People bump into me. I still enjoy going out though.”
This year we also asked about the support people receive and their social life and activities. These specific themes yielded constructive feedback on peoples’ lives in the past and present. But the answers also provided guidance for future care and support needs as well as evidencing how well the organisation has been adapting to the life changes already experienced by people we help support. Because the survey also involves families and staff, it is essential that peoples’ relationship and role is clearly identified but these responses from other people can add valued insights and perspective.
We also monitor age, ethnic background, and gender to inform future planning. This helps develop our understanding of family and social connections so that Choice Support can help preserve and honour peoples’ relationships. The questionnaire is distributed in both a paper format and is available online. All replies are confidential. As a further incentive to answer questions, people can opt to take part in a cash-prize raffle.
Once every questionnaire is analysed and all forums and meetings have taken place, the independent consultant produces a general report and detailed regional summaries that includes demographic information and quotes from the anonymised respondents.
This year Choice Support sought feedback on the survey process from managers. They find the format clear and useful, they favour brevity, and appreciate analysis. They’ve remarked that the “real life examples and comments are particularly interesting” and “the demographic data is valuable,” and that “the style of questions gives the findings a very human quality.”
If there are specific themes and clear areas in the summaries where improvements are needed, managers formulate action plans for staff to implement.
As an organisation, Choice Support is aware that many people rely on their paid supporters to fill in the questionnaire and acknowledge that this may be the only way many people being supported can respond. Our aim in the future is to continue to encourage relatives, friends, and advocates to support individuals to complete the survey. It is crucial to strive to reduce bias and identify independent support as much as possible.