A simple and effective way to gather data is through stakeholder surveys. These surveys can include questions about what the jurisdiction’s criminal justice challenges and needs are and what council members would like to see as focal points for the work that will be completed. This can be done many different ways and directed to a variety of audiences. For example, it could be prudent to consider a survey directed just to council members or to all criminal justice stakeholders or to broaden the survey to include community citizens in the jurisdiction. The survey(s) could be distributed via a link on the CJCC website or social networking sites and/or through (paper) distribution at focus group sessions. A survey can be a helpful tool to aid in providing direction for the CCJC.
For example, if survey respondents say that homelessness is a major issue and the number of homeless people involved in the criminal justice system is disproportionate to the number of known homeless persons in the community, these two data points can make a strong case to the CJCC to coordinate with local government officials, community stakeholders who are charged with overseeing housing resources, and/or local shelters to address the need.
Input from community citizens into the development of CJCC priorities and program implementation is strongly encouraged. For example, the Charleston County CJCC has enlisted 12 community representatives on their CJCC and solicited community input through listening sessions and a community survey to inform and provide strategic direction.
Helpful Tips for Building Successful Surveys:
1. Define the purpose of the survey: You are building the survey questionnaire to obtain important insights, so every question should play a direct role in hitting that target.
2. Make every question count: As a survey designer, ensure that your survey questions are related to the purpose and goal of the survey. Have a understanding of what data you want to collect and use that to help formulate your questions.
3. Keep it short and simple: To increase your survey response rate, keep your surveys short and focused. Ensure the survey questions follow a logical order and take and reasonable time to complete.
4. Ask direct questions: Vaguely worded survey questions confuse respondents and make your resulting data less useful. Be as specific as possible and strive for clear and precise language that will make your questions easy to answer.
5. Ask one question at a time: Although it is important to keep your survey as short and sweet as possible, that doesn’t mean doubling up on questions. Trying to pack too much into a single question can lead to confusion and inaccuracies in the responses.
6. Avoid leading and biased questions: Although you may not intend them to, certain words and phrases can introduce bias into your questions or point the respondent in the direction of a particular answer.
7. Speak your respondent's language: Make language only as complex or as detailed as it needs to be when you conduct a survey.
8. Use response scales whenever possible: Response scales capture the direction and intensity of attitudes, providing rich data. In contrast, categorical or binary response options, such as true/false or yes/no response options, generally produce less informative data.
9. Avoid using grids or matrices for responses: Grids or matrices of answers demand a lot more thinking from your respondent than a scale or multiple-choice construction. They need to understand and weigh up multiple items at once, and oftentimes they do not fill in grids accurately or according to their true feelings.
10. Rephrase yes/no questions if possible: As described, yes/no questions provide less detailed data than a response scale or multiple-choice questions, since they yield only one of two possible answers.
11. Start with the straightforward stuff: Ease your respondent into the survey by asking easy questions at the start of your questionnaire, then moving on to more complex or thought-provoking elements once they are engaged in the process. (Building Effective Surveys: 11 Tips and a Free Online Tool // Qualtrics, n.d.)