Greetings camp evaluators! If you are anything like me, this post will find you cold, busy, and not at all interested in complex information. ‘Tis the season, it seems.

With that in mind, I offer timely and simple survey tricks you can use right now that will give you useful and easy to manage evaluation data all year long.

The timely part of this post refers to the time of year. For many camps, the end of the year is a time for reaching out to parents, donors, staff, and other camp supporters. E-newsletters, Facebook posts, and holiday cards are just some of the ways camps make off-season connections with their camp community, and are all great opportunities to gather evaluation information.

The simple refers to the fact that the tips I offer below are just that — simple things you can use with existing surveys or things to consider if you are creating a survey for the first time. The simple also refers to the number four — and the four minutes or less you could spend applying any one of these tips to your work. Remember, the Research 360 goal is to expand your camp’s evaluation capacity, not overwhelm it.

1. Clean up an old survey. Survey design is both an art and a science, so use good science to identify a question on an old survey that has not worked in the past. Do respondents consistently skip a question? Then get rid of it! Are the scores on that question inconsistent? Delete! Past survey data is scientific evidence of what works and what doesn’t — so use this data to clean up that old survey. The art of survey design is a little harder. Use preset templates in online survey design software or check out these simple formatting tips to make your survey look and feel interesting and straight forward to your respondents.

2. Try a one-item survey. No one likes a long survey, and few people will respond to a long survey unless they have to. But a single question? That is doable. One-item surveys can be a powerful way to get a quick response from parents, campers, or staff, especially when it is embedded in an online newsletter, on your website, or on Facebook. Choosing your one question can be tricky, so you might think about testing out different questions with smaller groups of people before launching to your entire community. This post suggests avoiding big, open-ended questions like “what did you learn?” and use instead checklists or ranking questions to ask about people’s specific feelings or behaviors.

3. Create a running survey and embed it within the signature line of your email. Keep it short and give it a catchy title, like “Help us choose which new activity to add!” or “Did camp make a difference to you? Tell us how!” The purpose of a “running survey” is to get a pulse on an issue, so it doesn’t matter who responds or how often (although you could track this if you have the time to analyze the tracking data — otherwise, don’t bother). Visually appealing survey software like Google Forms and Typeform make it fun to fill out and provide you real-time visuals of your data.

4. Explore new surveys. We at Research 360 are partial to ACA’s Youth Outcomes Battery because the surveys were scientifically designed specifically for camps, and have nearly 50 different options that make the YOB completely customizable. But these options do not cover the wide range of youth outcomes, learning, and processes you might want to explore at your camp. Take five minutes to peruse this list of evaluation instruments designed specifically for youth, which includes tools to measure things not covered in the YOB, such as empathy, leadership, and physical activity. Find one that looks interesting? Adapt the wording so it is relevant to camp, then pilot test it with a small group of kids before using it with everyone.

Hopefully you found at least one four-minute nugget that you can explore or use to make surveys something that give all year long. Do you have tips or tricks you’d like to share? Use the comment box below to describe a survey trick you’ve used successfully — the secret to great surveys is, after all, testing new things and learning from what works. Let’s work together to expand our collective evaluation capacity!

Thanks to our research partner, Redwoods.


Additional thanks goes to our research supporter, Chaco.