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Non-linear questionnaires, gamification, social questioning and co-collaboration

Despite the explosion of methods and means for collecting feedback from respondents, many market research surveys still resemble the paper-based surveys of decades ago. Obviously they are still effective, and fine for bread-and-butter or DIY research. However, as audiences become more inured with websites and online marketing, it becomes more important to find ways of keeping (and measuring) attention. Approaches of 'gamification' can be used to make the questionnaire fun, however, there are also other ways of rethinking questionnaires and the process of seeking information from individuals.

Non-linear questionnaires

With traditional market research, because samples were hard to obtain, market researchers tried to get an answer to every question from all the people who took part in the research. New research methods are needed to get over issues like distraction, limited attention spans to make it easier to gather insight - rethinking questionnaires and surveys.

However, because the survey itself forces people to give opinions, it mixes up people with very strong opinions with those who may not have thought about the question or issue before. This creates a 'positivist bias' in market research (not a positive bias which is more related to yea-saying).

In particular, those who have weak or non- opinions are likely to give their impression of an area based on hearsay or experiences from long ago, when often the business really needs to know the opinions of those who really have something to say.

Even though the answers of different groups might be separated out later by looking at different segments, it's not always possible, so strong opinions can easily be mixed up or neutralised by weak opinions. Worse is that in forcing individuals to give answers to things that, to them, aren't important the questionnaire becomes less relevant, less engaging and boring.

With large sample sizes now available, particularly for consumer surveys, this force-everyone-to-have-an-opinion approach is less necessary. Non-linear questionnaires or menu-driven surveys enable people to answer the questions they want to answer, and to answer the questions in their order they want to respond.

From information about the order in which questions were answered and which questions are chosen, inferences can be made on factors like the importance of different areas to those taking part. In other words, by forcing the collection of less information per individual, more valuable data can be obtained.

Our Cxoice Survey Technologies have the ability for non-linear and menu-based surveys built in. Obviously, non-linear questions can be mixed with standard linear questions which must be answered in order. The benefits, for areas like customer satisfaction, are that respondents only answer what they want or are most willing to answer, keeping the survey relevant to the respondent with the respondent in control of the time that they give.

Demonstration of a non-linear questionnaire on SurveyGarden


The second direction/trend for improving questionnaires is 'gamification'. This means making tasks more interesting, or making questions themselves more fun to answer by making the questionnaire more playful, or using engaging tasks.

Factors can also include awarding points or bonus incentives for certain tasks or completing extra sections, or adding new ways of collecting data such as photos, videos, collages etc.

To make questions or tasks more interesting, a simple method is to frame them creatively: 'If an alien landed on earth and asked about X, what would you say?', or to make the task more engaging for instance drag-and-drop, click-to-rank, timed or animated questions.

Although this type of questioning has always been encouraged - even for face-to-face surveys before computer-aided interviewing (CAPI) things like shuffle packs and boards were used for encouraging participation, the use of mobile technologies and computers has increased the possibilities in multiple directions.

Our Cxoice Survey Technologies can be custom tuned to make the data collection more interesting or turning data into games with respondents. Our approach is to consider the research requirements first, then to design the data collection method second as we are able to create fully customised solutions for the best research approach.

Social questioning and co-collaboration

The third method to increase engagement is through what we call 'social questioning' - a particular view of the general trend towards co-collaboration (see also virtual communities). That is where the survey, or parts of the survey, or follow-ups to the survey can be reviewed, replayed or commented upon by respondents at a later time.

Reviewing can be done in a variety of ways. For instance as the survey is running live, once the respondent has given their opinion, results (or a subset of results) can be shown with a request for comments.

We can show other respondents' comments and ask for them to be rated, ranked or additional comments to be given, so making use of the social impact to explore the subject in more creative ways. This can extend to allowing respondents to dip back into the survey results (or subset) at a later date for additional review - eg for business-to-business where data or findings can be part of the reward for taking part.

An extension of this social questioning is to use a social snowball. A snowball sample is one where one respondent is asked to provide contacts to other potential respondents - for instance in minority sports, one volleyball player is likely to know other volleyball players, so to build a convenience sample from a difficult to reach group, snowballing uses social connections to get a broad set of participants.

A 'social snowball' is an extension of this, but with the added twist that shared link to the survey includes a snowball ID. Others within the snowball can see the group's results or comments separately from any overall results given (subject to a minimum for anonymity).


Blended data

The fourth, and increasingly important mechanism is to mix known or behavioural data with survey feedback and input. Adding database or transaction data to a survey is straightforward and can be used to feed information about purchase history easily.

Of more interest is linking customer journey and live choice data to survey data. For instance to follow up customers to gather information about motivations or to ask them to replay their journey with commenting.


These approaches extend the way in which survey and other data can be generated and integrated beyond simple click-and-tick based questionnaires. These approaches are particularly valuable in tracking how self-reported data matches against real decision making to allow for better quality forecasting and modelling of real-life behaviour.

For help and advice on carrying out projects requiring innovative or advanced survey designs contact

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