User's Guide

Determining Your Data Collection Methods

Once you have determined your available resources, project scope, and timeline; established a project team; and selected your sample (or populations to include), you need to decide how to collect the data. This chapter guides you through decisions about data collection methods. The methods you choose for sending and returning surveys affect how your staff views the confidentiality of their responses, and this will impact your overall survey response rate. To achieve maximum response rates among all hospital staff, we recommend using a paper-based data collection method. Current research and evidence shows that Web-based surveys have lower response rates than paper surveys (Groves, 2002), so the procedures outlined in Sections 4 and 5 assume a paper-based approach. If your hospital is considering a Web-based survey, Section 6 presents the pros and cons and outlines special considerations that need to be taken into account.

Decide How Surveys will be Distributed and Returned

When deciding how surveys will be distributed and returned, consider any previous experience your hospital has had with surveys. Have previous hospital surveys been mailed to staff home addresses or administered through the internal mail system at work? Were surveys returned through contact persons, the internal mail system, to "drop box" locations in the hospital, or by mail using postage-paid return envelopes? Were surveys returned to a location within the hospital or to an outside vendor? What were employee survey response rates? If possible, it is best to use methods that previously were successful in your hospital.

Distributing Surveys

Surveys can be mailed directly to staff home addresses or administered through an internal mail system at work. If surveys are mailed to homes, you need to verify that you have correct, updated home addresses of staff members and account for outgoing and return postage in your budget. If surveys are administered to staff at work, we recommend that you provide explicit instructions and allow staff to complete the survey during work time to emphasize hospital administration's support for the data collection effort.

Returning Surveys

If your budget is limited, completed surveys can be returned to a designated hospital contact person through the internal mail system or to survey drop-off locations within the hospital. This method of returning surveys, however, may raise staff concerns about the confidentiality of their responses. Rely on your hospital's past experience with these methods if they have been successful. 

If your hospital has had little experience administering employee surveys or you feel there are confidentiality concerns, it is best to have staff mail their completed surveys directly to an outside vendor or an address outside the hospital via postage-paid return envelopes. If you do not use a vendor, consider having the surveys returned to a corporate headquarters address so staff will be assured that no one at their hospital will see the completed surveys. Remember, if surveys are returned through the mail, you will need to account for return postage in your budget.

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Establish Points-of-Contact Within the Hospital

You will want to establish people in the hospital to serve as points-of-contact for the survey. Points-of-contact increase the visibility of the survey by showing their support for the effort and by helping to answer questions about the survey. Decide how many points-of-contact are needed by taking into account the number of staff and hospital areas or units taking the survey. We recommend using at least two types of points-of-contact.

A Main Hospital Point-of-Contact

At least one main hospital point-of-contact should be appointed from the project team so that staff will have one central source for their questions or concerns about the survey. We recommend including contact information for the main hospital point-of-contact in the prenotification letter or survey cover letter sent to staff (i.e., phone number, E-mail address, office number). The main hospital point-of-contact has several duties, including:

  • Answering questions about survey items, instructions, or processes.
  • Responding to staff comments and concerns.
  • Helping to coordinate survey mailing and receipt of completed surveys.
  • Communicating with outside vendors as needed.
  • Communicating with other points-of-contact as necessary.

Additional Points-of-Contact

You may decide to recruit points-of-contact for each hospital area, unit, or staffing category included in your sample. A unit-level point-of-contact is responsible for promoting and administering the survey within his/her unit and for reminding unit staff to complete the survey, without coercing them in any way. An informational letter describing these duties and the overall survey process should be sent to potential contacts before you begin survey administration. Unit-level contacts are typically at the management or supervisory level, such as nurse managers, department managers, or shift supervisors.

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Page last reviewed October 2014
Internet Citation: Determining Your Data Collection Methods. October 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.