Surveys allow you to collect information from residents that, if you get a high enough response rate, can be generalized. People answer in the privacy of their own home so may be willing to share their concerns about sensitive topics, like aging in place. You can use an existing survey or you can design a survey to collect more detailed information about the age-friendly priorities in your community. A well-designed survey with questions that address local realities is one key to creating an action plan that will make your community more aging friendly.
The goal of an aging-friendly survey is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a community’s resources to meet the needs and preferences of older residents. Questions that identify needs should be paired with questions that can lead to recommendations. For example, if you are interested in learning about the resources residents are using to meet their need for socialization, you may ask a person-centered questions, such as:
Do you have family or friends in the area who could be thought of as a support network (people to whom you can turn when help is needed)?
With response options: Yes, No or I don’t know
When you go out, what do you normally do?
With response options:
Go for walks
Go to church
Go to the library
Attend a club or hobby group
Participate in group sport or recreation
Take a class
Visit friends or family
Go shopping or do errands
Attend public events
Participate in planned excursions or outings
Go to a restaurant
I don’t go out
This can be followed by a resource question that can lead to an actionable item. For example:
If you would like to socialize more, what prevents you?
With response options:
No one to go with
Find out about events too late
Lack of transportation
Lack of opportunities
Events scheduled at times I am not available
By asking person-centered and resource questions, the needs assessment will learn if there is an unmet need for socialization, will know what socialization opportunities are available to residents and will know the barriers to access. All of that information is needed to create an action plan for the aging-friendly initiative that will result in meaningful changes.
Strategies for creating a locally-based survey:
1. Make a list of locally-relevant issues you want to cover in your community survey. For example, a rural community may be less interested in assessing satisfaction with public transportation and be more interested in learning if people have access to any form of alternative transportation. Cities with public transportation, on the other hand, may be interested in learning how well the current system is meeting the needs of older folks.
2. Examine a few surveys used in other places. Most surveys include similar questions. Looking at more than three may not result in the creation of a stronger survey.
3. Choose a preliminary set of questions that provide answers to the issues that are important in your community.
4. After creating an initial list of questions that meet your need for information, think about how long you want your survey to be. Generally, a survey should not take more than 15 minutes to complete. When a survey is too long, respondents may fill our only part of the survey or they may not fill it out at all. An additional consideration is how you are going to distribute the survey. Are you mailing the survey to all residents in town? If so, what is your budget for mailing and printing? Extra pages mean extra postage. Are you including your survey as an insert in a local paper? If so, you may be limited to two pages—front and back of one page. Will the survey be available online? Are there limitations to the online survey tool you are planning to use?
5. Read through the draft questions and eliminate questions that are redundant and questions that cannot produce information that will be helpful in your aging friendly community planning.
6. Develop a “sales pitch” for your survey. One way to increase your response rate is to explain why each person’s response is important to the community. The “sales pitch” should be distributed with your survey, with directions for completing and returning the survey.
7. Find a group willing to pilot test your survey who are not familiar with your aging friendly initiative. You don’t have to find a large group of people to test the survey—just a small group is enough to tell you if some questions are confusing or irrelevant to the local context. Ask them to tell you how long it took to complete the survey. Working with your committee, fine-tune the survey instrument.
8. Distribute your survey. If you are not doing a direct mailing to every town resident, brainstorm ways to maximize distribution. Does your community have a local newsletter that can include information about the survey? Are there buildings where people typically go—the library, churches, stores? Are there formal or informal groups—such as a knitting club, lifelong learning program, or exercise group– that are willing to help you get the word out about your survey?
9. Collect your results. It is a good idea to make a notation on the survey that people should return completed surveys by a specific date.