User's Guide

Getting Started

Before you begin, it is important to understand the basic tasks involved in a survey data collection process and decide who will manage the project. This section is designed to guide you through the planning stage of your project.

Determine Available Resources, Project Scope, and Schedule

Two of the most important elements of an effective project are a clear budget to determine the scope of your data collection effort and a realistic schedule. Therefore, to plan the scope of the project, you need to think about your available resources. You may want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much money and/or resources are available to conduct this project?
  • Who within the hospital is available to work on this project?
  • When do I need to have the survey results completed and available?
  • Do we have the technical capabilities to conduct this project in the hospital, or do we need to consider using an outside company or vendor for some or all of the tasks?

You should read this entire Survey User's Guide before deciding on a budget and the project's scope, because this document outlines the tasks that need to be accomplished. Each task has interrelated cost and scheduling implications to consider. Use the following guidelines to determine your budget and plan: 

  • Consider all of the project tasks and whether the tasks will be performed in-house or through an outside company or vendor.
  • Develop initial budget and scheduling estimates and revise as needed given your available resources, existing deadlines, and project implementation decisions.
  • Include a cushion for unexpected expenses, and account for tasks that may take longer than expected.

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Plan Your Project 

Use the timeline in Table 1 as a guideline in planning the tasks to be completed. Plan for at least 10 weeks from the beginning of the project to the end of data collection. Add a few more weeks for data cleaning, analysis, and report preparation. If you are conducting a Web-based survey, add several weeks to the beginning of the timeline to allow time for adapting the survey to a Web-based format, and pretesting to ensure that the Web version works properly before beginning data collection.

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Decide Whether to Use an Outside Vendor

You may want to consider using an outside company or vendor either to handle your survey data collection tasks or to analyze the data and produce reports of the results. Hiring a vendor may be a good idea for several reasons. Working with an outside vendor may help ensure neutrality and the credibility of your results. In addition, since confidentiality of survey responses is a typical concern, staff may feel their responses will be more confidential when they are returned to an outside vendor. Vendors typically also have experienced staff to perform all of the necessary activities and the facilities and equipment to handle the tasks. A professional and experienced firm may be able to provide your hospital with better quality results in a more timely manner than if you were to do the tasks yourself.

On the other hand, the use of a vendor may add too much additional expense to your project. If your hospital system has a corporate headquarters, you may want to find out if the headquarters staff is capable of and interested in conducting a survey of your hospital and analyzing the data for you. Your hospital system may be interested in conducting a system-wide survey effort; not just in your hospital. Moreover, your hospital's staff may feel more comfortable about the confidentiality of their responses if surveys can be returned to a corporate headquarters address.

If you are considering hiring an outside vendor, the following guidelines may help you to select the right one:

  • Look for a vendor with expertise in survey research. Local universities may have their own survey research centers or be able to refer you to vendors. You also may inquire within your hospital or hospital system to find out if particular vendors have been used before for survey data collection, analysis, and reporting.
  • Gain an understanding of the vendor's capabilities and strengths, so you can match them to the needs of your project. Determine whether the vendor can conduct all of the project components you want them to handle. Some vendors will be able to handle your feedback report needs; others will not.
  • Provide potential vendors with a written, clear outline of work requirements. Make tasks, expectations, deadlines, and deliverables clear and specific; mention all documentation, files, data sets, and other deliverables you expect to receive. Then, ask each vendor to submit a short proposal describing the work they plan to conduct, the qualifications of their company and staff, and details regarding methods and costs.
  • Meet with the vendor to make sure you will be able to work well together.
  • Once you have chosen a vendor, institute monitoring, supervision, and problem-resolution procedures.

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Form a Project Team 

Whether you conduct the survey in-house or through an outside vendor, you will need to establish a project team responsible for planning and managing the project. Your project team may consist of one or more individuals from your own hospital staff, outsourced vendor staff, or a combination.

The Project Team's Responsibilities

The project team is responsible for a variety of duties—either for conducting them in-house or for monitoring them if an outside vendor is hired. Highlights of some of these project duties include:

  • Planning and budgeting: Determining the scope of the project based on available resources, planning project tasks, and monitoring the budget.
  • Selecting a sample: Determining how many and which staff to survey.
  • Establishing department-level contact persons: Contacting department- and unit-level points-of-contact in the hospital to support survey administration, maintain open communication throughout the project, and provide assistance.
  • Preparing survey materials: Printing surveys, preparing postage-paid return envelopes and mailing labels, and compiling these components for your survey mailout.
  • Distributing and receiving survey materials: Distributing prenotification letters, surveys, and nonresponse postcards; and handling receipt of completed surveys.
  • Tracking survey responses and response rates: Monitoring who has returned the survey and who should receive followup materials.
  • Handling data entry, analysis, and report preparation: Reviewing survey data for respondent errors and data entry errors in electronic data files, conducting data analysis, and preparing a report of the results.
  • Coordinating with and monitoring an outside vendor (optional): Outlining the requirements of the project to solicit bids from outside vendors, selecting a vendor, coordinating tasks to be completed in-house versus by the vendor, and monitoring progress to ensure that the necessary work is completed and deadlines are met.

The remainder of this Survey User's Guide contains the information necessary to collect survey data using an in-house project team. If you decide to hire a vendor, you may use the information as a resource to facilitate communication with your vendor about the various project tasks and decisions that will be required.

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Page last reviewed October 2014
Internet Citation: Getting Started. October 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.