Tips for designing online surveys for solid waste management

Departments - Waste Watch

June 8, 2021

As states loosen COVID-19-related restrictions, we are looking forward to life getting back to normal. However, throughout the pandemic, we have experienced certain advances and conveniences of technology that will continue to shape our culture going forward—improved online surveys are just one example.

For many in the solid waste industry during the pandemic, there was an increased need to ensure that the facilities that handle waste and trucks that collect it did not slow down as the nation quarantined and many began working from home. During this migration from offices to homes, the need for solid waste outreach did not disappear, but the response to it had to evolve. In fact, the need for outreach surged as people adjusted to different waste collection schedules and the challenges resulting from the massive growth in the residential waste sector. Where previously in-person communication would have been vital to understanding the needs of customers, virtual substitutes—such as online surveys—were needed.

Online surveys are easily applicable to the solid waste industry. They are flexible and can be adjusted to small groups or to entire populations. They can be used to help a solid waste department brainstorm how to advance or prioritize initiatives and discover (rather quickly) what the conditions are in the field. The process of designing a survey is also a healthy exercise in determining the information that you truly need and developing questions to provide actionable feedback. Surveys can help you better understand the customers that you serve and may also help you realize efficiencies or service improvements that can be made.

As a feedback tool, online surveys can be conducted regularly to measure the success of a solid waste management system. Modern survey platforms have a tailored and professional user experience, and with thoughtful design, the result can be a practical survey that respondents will want to answer. Additionally, working with an experienced adviser and receiving support from a professional communications team can make the development of an online survey straightforward and rewarding. Surveys can also help a solid waste department anticipate and understand potential pushback against proposed ideas or indicate where feasibility studies may be needed.

While it is easy to assume that your customer base is regularly connected to the internet, reads their emails, and pays attention to social media, you will need to anticipate that some may not. It may be easier to design the survey in English, but when it comes to implementation, you may want to deploy it in other languages based on the demographics of your jurisdiction. If you wish to include your full customer base in your public survey, you will need to meet them where they are (and use their language) to inform them how they can participate.

When it comes to advertising, do not limit yourself to one tactic. Consider advertising where waste management may be “top of mind,” such as at drop-off facilities, on your solid waste web pages, or even on residents’ waste containers. If you advertise through social media, you may be surprised by how targeted and affordable boosted posts can be. If you regularly send out invoices or utility bills, consider adding a note about any current surveys. And do not forget to develop a press release and follow up with local news outlets and community groups to help you spread the word.

Respecting respondents’ time is of the utmost importance when developing surveys. This includes ensuring that those who respond are exactly who you are targeting. You can do this by using screener questions and only asking applicable questions. Appropriate survey logic can skip or hide questions that do not apply or branch to questions that do. Also, consider not requiring personally identifiable information unless it is a small group and respondents must be identified. The more anonymous the survey is, the more honest answers may be. If you wish to deploy a survey for a large population, asking optional demographic questions can help determine if you have a representative sample. Survey designers need to provide a range of possible answers (with biases aside) to have a meaningful survey with valuable results.

Opinions gathered from a survey might make you realize that you need to rework your outreach strategy and may impact your operations for the better. While many of the lessons learned in other industries can and do apply in our industry, there are ways an experienced solid waste advisor can help ensure that your online survey is a success.