How to Take Your Survey Data From Analog to Digital

September 2, 2015

In the years I have been with Alchemer I’ve heard many varying versions of the same tale: Years worth of surveys were conducted with pen and paper. The data needs to be digitized and the survey needs to be distributed electronically in the future.

The person on the other end of the conversation interjects their story with heavy sighs, exasperated exhales, and a few unspoken facepalms.

The bad news is the stacks of paper surveys from the past will require manual data capture.

The good news is this effort will save countless hours when analyzing the survey data, as well as throughout the entire survey process going forward.

don't capture data manually

If you find yourself with stacks of paper surveys, you should absolutely move them into digital forms. Here’s some insight into why, how, and a great example of how the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art did it.

Problems with Having Survey Data on Paper

Conducting a survey is a fantastic way to get feedback. Listening to customers, employees, or event attendees is an integral means of improving to keep them happy.

Slack, a unicorn startup, has made feedback the epicenter of its efforts. More importantly, they react to this feedback as fast as possible. Did I mention they’re worth A BILLION DOLLARS?!?

Paper surveys deny organizations the ability to react and improve accordingly. The data capture occurs in batches. Analysis of survey data happens long after the initial surveying process (if it happens at all).

If or when the data is analyzed, it is preceded by the tedious process of manually entering it into some other form, usually spreadsheets (boo!).

Spreadsheets are undeniably valuable in the way they can be comprehensive and flexible. Some people love taking raw data and using spreadsheets to creating tables and charts.

But for most of us, slogging through a spreadsheet is not fast or fun.

It can cause data analysis to quickly drop down the priority list. It’s kind of like flossing: it’s a good thing to do, everyone says you should do it, but it hurts and can leave you bleeding.

Additionally, the greater the time between data capture and data analysis the less immediate the feedback becomes, reducing the opportunity to evolve or adapt on behalf of the survey respondents.

In short- paper surveys are to be avoided if possible. Digital surveys are much easier to create, distribute, complete, and analyze.

When to Start Digitizing Survey Data

The best time to begin digitizing paper surveys was yesterday, if not sooner!

There is a goldmine of data at your fingertips, but you need the right tools to get it into a valuable format.

First, recreate surveys in a digital form to match the paper surveys. Then begin importing data into the online survey.

If the data was entered into spreadsheets, your software should offer a data import tool that can save you lots of time and energy.

If the survey data is still trapped in stacks of paper surveys, then enter responses into your survey software one at time.

This will require someone (cough*interns*cough) to actually take the survey on a computer and enter in the answers that have previously been given on the paper surveys.

Initially it might appear like more undesirable manual effort. But rest assured that once the data has been digitized things will become more streamlined and far less painful.

When the survey and data are safely migrated, you can start to get the valuable analysis you need with just a few clicks.

Keep Data Digital With Offline Surveys

One inhibiting factor of doing digital or online surveys is that occasionally the survey data gets collected in an environment inhospitable to wifi. Or perhaps the wifi is available but unreliable.

Conferences, expos, event locations, and research done “in the field” are all subject to losing wifi connections, potentially rendering your feedback uncapturable.

But don’t let these obstacles keep from you collecting digital data. You want to avoid the analog to digital slog as much as you possibly can.

The solution to this problem is to choose software that allows you to collect data in an offline mode and upload it once a strong internet connection is available again. This is much more convenient than keeping track of countless paper forms, and digital surveys are also easier for respondents to fill out.

BMOCA Case Study: From Stacks of Surveys to Instant Data Analysis

Online surveys are a 21st century upgrade to surveys and data analysis. But what is to be done with all that data from yesteryear that was diligently collected using “the old way”?

I was able to help answer this questions for the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.
They had an enormous backlog of 10 years of paper surveys, which “became office furniture” for Program Director, Nicole Dial-Kay.

paper survey give no data

Ater recreating their surveys in Alchemer, we successfully imported a portion of data that had been dutifully entered into a spreadsheet using the Data Import Tool. Then the remaining paper surveys responses were manually entered in to the online survey.

Once all the data was in Alchemer, BMoCA was able to quickly get actionable feedback on their programs.

This came in the form of a Summary Report of their data as well as segment by year, school district, and instructor. These reports were generated with just a few clicks.

This survey data will be instrumental when implementing program changes. And will make their next grant application process a much smoother operation.

It also makes for a much cleaner desk.

clean desk without paper surveys

With the paper surveys fully digitized, the BMoCA staff cathartically deposited them in the recycle bin.

To be clear, it took some time to fully digitize all the paper surveys. But this effort was dwarfed by the time the team is saving by getting actionable conclusions from their Alchemer reports.

It also saves countless hours in the future in every step of the survey process.

How much easier would data analysis be if all paper surveys were safely in the recycle bin?

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