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Survey User's Guide

Chapter 2. 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 chapter 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 nursing home or health care system 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 nursing home, or do we need to consider using an outside company or vendor for some or all of the tasks?

You should read this entire user 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 the project tasks and whether the tasks will be performed in-house (in the nursing home, in system headquarters, or both) 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 below as a planning guideline for your survey. For a single nursing home, plan for at least 9 weeks from the beginning of the project to the end of data collection (Figure 1). Add a few more weeks for data cleaning, analysis, and report preparation. If your nursing home is small, you can probably shorten the task timeline in Figure 1. If your nursing home is much larger than average, you may need to add more time for planning and assembling materials. Also, if you are surveying multiple nursing homes, you may need to add more time for planning, assembling materials, and coordinating activities across the nursing homes.

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Decide Whether To Use an Outside Vendor

You may want to consider using an outside company or vendor to handle your survey data collection tasks, analyze the data and produce reports of the results, or both. 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, because 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 the necessary activities, as well as the facilities and equipment to handle the tasks. A professional and experienced firm may be able to provide your nursing home with better quality results faster manner than if you were to complete the tasks yourself.

On the other hand, the use of a vendor may add too much expense to your project. If your nursing home is part of a larger health care system, you may want to find out if the headquarters staff can conduct a survey of your nursing home and analyze the data for you. Senior headquarters executives may be interested in administering the survey to multiple nursing homes within the system. Moreover, your nursing home's staff may feel more comfortable about the confidentiality of their responses if surveys can be returned to a system 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 nursing home or health care system to find out if particular vendors have been used before for employee survey data collection, analysis, and reporting.
  • Gain an understanding of the vendor's capabilities and strengths so that you can match them to the needs of your project. Determine whether the vendor can conduct all planned project tasks. Some vendors will be able to produce your feedback reports; 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 complete, 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 nursing home staff, system headquarters staff, vendor staff, or a combination.

The Project Team's Responsibilities

The project team is responsible for a variety of activities—either for conducting them in-house or for monitoring them if you hire a vendor. 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.
  • Establishing contact persons—Assigning a point of contact in the nursing home to support survey administration, maintain open communication throughout the project, and provide assistance.
  • Preparing publicity materials—Creating flyers, posters, and E-mail and Intranet messages to announce and promote the survey in the nursing home.
  • Preparing survey materials—Printing surveys, preparing postage-paid return envelopes and labels (if applicable), and assembling these components for your survey distribution.
  • Distributing and receiving survey materials—Distributing surveys and reminder notices and handling receipt of completed surveys.
  • Tracking survey responses and calculating preliminary response rates—Monitoring survey returns and calculating preliminary response rates; if individual identification numbers are used on the surveys to track nonrespondents, identifying the nonrespondents who should receive followup materials.
  • Examining returned surveys at the end of data collection to identify completes and calculating the official response rate—Identifying complete surveys that will be included in the analysis data file and calculating the final response rate.
  • 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 reports 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 user guide contains the information an in-house project team will need to collect survey data. 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: Chapter 2. Getting Started. Content last reviewed October 2014. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.


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