Recently after an interview for a project, some us at Corona had a discussion about whether or not it would be useful to use a survey for the project. Like a lot of projects, this potential client was interested in what new changes the public might want in their organization. And at first, this seems like it could be a great area to do a survey and ask people what they want. However, directly asking people about what they might want can backfire sometimes for a number of reasons:
- Various psychologists have found that people are not always great at predicting their emotional response to something (e.g., will X make me happy?). Part of the reason is that people don’t always do a good job of imagining what it will actually be like.
- People often think that they want more choices, but this is generally not the case.
- Depending on the topic, people might feel like there is a “socially correct” option and might choose that one instead of what they really want.
- I think in general, we don’t always know what we want, especially when the possibilities are vast. And sometimes what we want may not come through in the survey questions. Sometimes experiencing a change is very different than reading about a change, especially if you’re trying to gauge whether you will like the change or not.
In some situations, it may be more useful to try to measure behavior instead of opinions when trying to determine what people want. While it is sometimes difficult to do this, the data can be very rich and useful. One interesting approach is to temporarily make a change and record what happens. For example, New York City first made Times Square pedestrian only as a test to see what the impact might be. It was initially a hard sell because people were thinking about what the city would lose—one of the main thoroughfares. But there were lots of positives to making it pedestrian only—enough to make the change permanent. When you survey people about potential changes, sometimes it is easier to think about what you lose in the change, as opposed to what you might gain. And that can impact how people respond to the survey.
A pop up shop is another example of this. A shop can temporarily appear for a few days or a month to see whether a more permanent location is a good idea. Even if your online shoppers say in a survey that they would visit a physical location, a pop up store will let you know whether that actually happens.
So the next time your organization is considering making a change, it might be useful to think about whether a survey is going to be the most useful way to decide what to change or whether measuring behaviors as part of a test might be a better approach.