By Aaron Heskes

In problem generation part 2, we touched on surveys. Naturally, every response you read should be taken with a grain of salt as each person surveyed can only provide information based on their own priorities and experiences. This in turn is why surveys are valuable, as they flesh out the troubles, needs and desires a certain user role encounters. Each user role is defined by the reason an individual is engaging with a system in the first place. As we saw with the dreamcatcher exercise in part 2, every system is comprised of several co-dependent roles. Each role is filled by an individual who has an independent set of tasks and priorities to complete. As a result, feedback is best understood in the context of each user’s role.

The best responses come from specific questions tailored to the challenges and responsibilities that user takes on. It’s important to keep in mind why you’re surveying these people. Good questions prompt the survey taker to tell you about the experience, but as the question writer you can’t allow your own theories and opinions guide those responses. What are the steps they must go through to get the job done? What aspects of the task are most difficult for them?

Wording questions for specific yet unbiased answers can be difficult. A good rule of thumb is to try the questions out yourself. Is there more than one possible answer? How predictable are the responses? Instead of asking: “Do you think the sign in process is problematic?”, you may ask the survey taker to “Please tell me about how you sign in at this office…”

If the sign in process at this fictional office is obviously and hopelessly flawed, then skip the basic portion of the question. Think instead about why a better sign in process would be important to the patient, and gear your questions towards getting that information.

Take a look at the survey below. This Survey was conducted to evaluate the care environment in the Oncology Clinic at Miriam Hospital.

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This survey is an example of an instance where a survey taker goes above and beyond. She gives a lot of detail about what a nurse does in the clinic. However, she also shows an awareness of how she handles those responsibilities when interacting with patients. This nurse describes her professional and therapeutic temperament as a coping mechanism for her patients. This adds a layer to the formal list of responsibilities a nurse has in that environment, and insinuates that the clinic might be an uncomfortable place for patients. This type of self- analytical response gives you, the evaluator, everything you need to understand her place in the equation, as well as a sense of her insights.

Not everyone will be so willing to give quality feedback. Naturally some people, like nurses, feel obligated to be thorough and competent. Others, namely the patients in the clinic, didn’t take well to filling out surveys typed up by some pesky RISD students.

The survey below is from one such patient. The curt answers don’t give us more than the facts.

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To avoid useless survey results, remember to word your questions carefully. Due to patient privacy laws, I can’t recommend you record your interactions with people in the clinic, however take notes on what they’re saying. Most of the patients we surveyed were having chemo done, so they didn’t feel like writing. If you wish to take anything from my advice on the written survey methodology, remember to keep your interactions cordial, conversational and natural. Most importantly, keep your ears open and your mouth shut. If you can coax someone into a story or rant, you’ll learn a lot more about who they are and what they experience, than you might if you expected them to articulate the same insights on paper. Written surveys are flawed, but if you can make up for their shortcomings with some social finesse, you’ll be able to collect all the information you need from anyone.