A Guide for Conducting a Community Survey

Defining the Process

Step 1: Establish a working committee. Any community development project is a people project; its success depends on how well people with a stake in the community are involved. The first step for all community initiatives is to create a survey committee that represents a broad spectrum of local interests. What groups should be represented on the assessment committee? Identify at least five groups from the community whose representatives can serve on your survey committee. It is important that your committee represents a wide variety of interest groups in the community.

Step 2: Assess and identify significant needs. The first task of the survey committee is to identify significant community needs and opportunities that should be addressed by the survey. Don't take on too many different issues, stay focused.

Step 3: Identify stakeholders. Stakeholders are citizens who are affected by the issues addressed in the needs and resource survey. For many development issues, every citizen is a stakeholder. For other issues, specific stakeholders can be identified. Stakeholders should be included in planning the survey instrument and disseminating the results. For example, if your survey includes questions related to education in the community, then someone from the school district should participate in the survey process. This kind of buy-in will assure that results are shared with the appropriate interest groups.

Step 4: Decide what you want to know. This is the most important step. There is nothing worse than collecting information and still don't have the answers you need. So, be very clear on what you want to know and why you want to know it. This will take discussion with your organizer and the committee.

Step 5: Select questions. This is the next crucial step. The questions can be asked in an open-ended format or a closed in format. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Most questionnaires will allow opportunities for respondents to answer in both formats.

Step 6: Identify respondents. Who is to be surveyed? What is the target population from which you will choose the sample? Is this survey intended to obtain feedback from a special population -- high school students, elderly people, businesses, farmers, members of an organization? Or is this survey intended for all the members of the community? How is the community defined? Does it only include residents who live "in town," or does it include everyone in a particular zip code? Clearly define the intended recipients of your survey. Publicize the distribution of the survey! Announcing the program to the public will greatly enhance the response rate. It gives citizens a sense of ownership in the effort and it allays fears that the sponsoring group may have ulterior motives. The message should inform the public about who is organizing the survey, the date of the survey distribution, what its purposes are and who may be contacted to participate in the survey.

Step 7: Collect the data and ask the questions. There are many different methods used to distribute a survey. It is difficult to determine which is the most effective. Consider how much time you have to invest into this survey, how many people you have available to work on this project and how much money you have allocated for the survey.

  • Mail surveys
  • Telephone surveys
  • Personal interviews
  • Drop-off survey
  • Web-based surveys

Step 8: Analyze the data and review the answers. After you have collected the information from the survey. Now is the time to analyze the results – what were the responses to your questions. This should be done by both the project leader and shared with key committee members. This will allow for good evaluation of the results.

Step 9: Write the report. Organization of the written report executive summary. A brief, interesting summary of the report's highlights. It should include a description of the population surveyed, the response rate and the results of the key issues.

  1. Introduction describing the purpose or objective of the report.
  2. A description of how the data were collected, the sample size, response rate, etc.
  3. A description and interpretation of the most relevant or significant findings.
  4. Recommendations for committees to consider issue by issue.
  5. Acknowledgments and recognition of persons who helped in the survey effort. Include the volunteers -- individuals and organizations that contributed financially, provided publicity, recruited volunteers or otherwise participated.

Step 10: Share the results. Where will you disseminate the results of the survey? Members of your survey committee represent various stakeholder groups in your community. Each member can share these results with the organization they represent. List each stakeholder group and the date of their next meeting, where members can present survey results. Can a committee representative share the survey results at each meeting listed?

Use the Data

Now that you've collected information and drawn some conclusions, let people know! They will be interested. There are many ways to share this information with stakeholders. In addition to widely distributing a formal report, it would be more effective if the survey results were disseminated at town meetings or at meetings of the various stakeholder groups involved in the survey.

Next Steps

  • The community survey can be used to identify key strategic areas or critical issues that will be explored in the future. Use the results of the survey to help you identify these key strategic areas. Focus on the future, on your community vision. Reorganize and begin the long-range planning process.
  • Revisit the major issues. Although many issues were featured in the survey, your planning committee can address only a few. What are the top issues?
  • Identify the stakeholders in your community that represent each of the issues you identified on the previous page. You can have more than one stakeholder group for each issue.
  • The community survey can be used to identify key strategic areas or critical issues that will be explored in the future. Use the results of the survey to help you identify these key strategic areas. Focus on the future, on your community vision. Reorganize and begin the long-range planning process.


University of Illinois Extension has the following on-line programs:

Conducting a Community Survey provides a very easy on-line process for conducting a community survey, along with providing formats for various types of surveys. 

Scheduling Your Project Activities helps manage multiple timelines, multiple projects or groups of people. This online program uses the Gantt chart as a way of keeping your plans on-task. 

Other Resources

The Community Tool Box is an on-line resource with information on essential skills for building healthy communities. It offers more than 7,000 pages of practical guidance in creating change and improvement. Learning modules include: community assessments, strategic planning, volunteerism, leadership development, community intervention, program evaluation and much more. 

Community and Leadership is a website dedicated to community and economic development with various modules such as: diversity and inclusion, economic viability, leadership development, organizational development, planning and public policy.