“Does this survey make my rear end look big?”…and the perils of collaborative survey design.

I’m currently working on another pro-bono project for a task force of…30 people. Yes, you read correctly–thirty people. When I heard there were that many folks my thoughts immediately turned to the perils of ‘group-think’ and collaborative decision-making.

Turning a major initiative over to thirty people is like asking all of your friends (30 of them!) whether your new dress is flattering. Plan for 30 different opinions. In my case, I’m steeling myself for line edits galore and massive wordsmithing of characteristic statements in the survey. Let’s just hope everyone is OK with a 7-point Likert scale.

In our initial meeting, task force members were somewhat clear on the overall objective, but were definitely not in agreement as to what they ‘needed to know‘ in order to make recommendations — my first step in research design. We spent so much time trying to figure that out, that we had very little time to explore the characteristics of a successful program. In fact, while we did manage to come up with a long list of ideal program characteristics, we didn’t have a chance to rank them, so the task force is expected to accomplish this ranking exercise via email this week.

I’m envisioning thirty nit-picky changes to each statements. I hope I’m wrong.

Lesson learned: if you can’t make the group smaller, make the task timelines very short and concrete. Consensus among 30 people is not going to happen, so keep them focused on the outcome, not the steps to get there.

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