It seems everyone has to have a survey. Sometimes websites now have surveys one has to take if you want to see what they are selling. If not a survey, they have a list of things for you to fill out. This is not a “paywall” like some newspapers and publications have, but in a way it is, because they get free information about you. Politicians have surveys. Just about every professional organization develops surveys, which in turn, help to generate statistics they use for some cause or business purpose and support.
Many years ago, noted PEW Research took a survey about usage of the Internet when broadband use was just appearing. They came up with the conclusion that one could get more “work” done with broadband. I decided to look at the data which they supplied and found that much of the usage was used for watching TV or listening to Radio. If one considers the latter “work” then the conclusion was true, but I don’t think they even told survey takers what they considered “work” since in my mind their conclusion did not support “more work done.”
Some professional who have no idea about what to put into a “research” survey, give a survey online for colleagues to fill out, hoping they learn from the information, what they themselves should be doing or show the bosses what they should be doing—even though such activity might not be appropriate in their particular case or situation. Sometimes these are generated to see if they can get support within, for something they are not doing currently.
The American Library Association, collect surveys and statistics to help build “benchmarks” for the constituency, coming up with “Best Practices” scenarios by the numbers for all—as if every library in an organization has the same patronage, budgets, the same size, or the same needs. True, ALA does evaluate within certain lines, small, medium, and large, but sometimes the range between lowest medium, and highest median can be significant. Actually they did come up with a number of books one should have in a library, a “standard,” for the number of patrons they have. I was able to use this successfully for our state prison general library, but not for the staff or legal libraries also there.
I guess what I’m trying to say is—I don’t like surveys very much because in final analysis we don’t always agree on what they tell us anyway, or why, or how a particular question was asked in the first place. And of course it’s easy to spot a biased politician’s question—the question, not the politician. That’s because they always ask sometimes two questions within the same question. Their questions assumes something that may not be correct. In law, that’s called “leading the witness.” Politicians rarely let you answer somewhere in between their structured question. They apparently don’t want to hear those answers.
This is a reminder to me of the problem noted in Suzanne Langer’s book; Philosophy in a new Key; “The way a question is asked limits and disposes the ways in which any answer to it—right or wrong—may be given.” This was published back in 1941 and in the 50s, in a Mentor paperback. Since then, there is a plethora of books and articles about asking questions, and taking on surveys.
A more recent process of 1946, which we just learned about around 1985 is all about discovering the RIGHT questions to ask, and solving the right problem. We have named it TRIZ “Theory of Inventive Problem Solving,” written by a Russian engineer. It is now being used in business, but I don’t see much change in questions on surveys that will solve or answer much information. https://www.mindtools.com/amtcc5f/triz
And then there are those demographic-gender questions where you can check only one answer: Single? Married? Widowed? Divorced? I’m totally at a loss with this because I’ve been divorced, I’ve been married (duh! wouldn’t I have been single if divorced?) and I’ve been widowed and single…not necessarily in that order. If I only checked one of those—single, what statistic would show up for my past experience as married, divorced, widowed? Why can’t I answer “all that apply?” At least three are questions of past as well as present status. And without answering all, how will that skew the statistics for the “research” being prepared for someone out there? Maybe you’re no longer widowed if you’ve since re-married and divorced and are now single? At what point are you divorced but not single? Or widowed but not single? Does any of this tell the questionnaire what we are like? Is that what they want to know? I guess my question would be to start with, “what do you want this to tell you?”
On the Internet you supposedly can get paid for taking surveys…hundreds of them. I tried that a couple of times. One group kept asking me what I bought in the last 30, 60, day or 12 month periods, as if I could remember each particular brand name. They would ask me to check all those things I never buy—probably because the company was paying someone to pay me to tell them what I bought or didn’t buy that I couldn’t remember.
Another group would ask me to identify people I don’t know, have never seen or couldn’t recognize. Then they asked me, of those I did recognize, who would I trust. My guess is the guy or gal who got the highest votes would get the job to hawk some toothpaste or something I don’t buy. Mostly, I didn’t trust anyone I didn’t know.
The best survey is the one for which I was to get $10 each month. I don’t answer questions; I just mail in, at their expense, all the business junk mail I receive. They take care of asking all the questions like who sent what to me, what they sent, and any other question their “research” team may have come up with, and I get to keep their $10 for stuff I don’t buy.
I’d rather hope people don’t conclude we need more surveys to tell us what we should be doing or buying because others are doing it, in lieu of deciding for ourselves, but rather that we have more Research that lets us send the junk back and someone pays us to do so. By the way, I was never paid a cent.
My understanding of surveys, is to offer up information they don’t pay for, so the companies and individuals who use those statistics, can blame someone else if its use doesn’t work.
© 2023, by Paul T. Jackson