When designing an exchange, it’s important to determine who you’d like to hear from as this will shape your demographic questions. If done well, you can see the success of your reach to specific groups in Participation, and the priorities of each group using Thought Maps.
Some things to consider:
- What are demographic questions?
- Do you need to add demographic questions?
- What's in a great demographic question?
- Participant alignment
What are demographic questions?
Demographic questions help you to better understand the background characteristics of your participant community. This could be their age, affiliation with your organization, education level, ethnicity, income, etc.
🤔 Food for Thought
You can use the Participation tab to track demographic-based participation rates and promote the exchange to demographic groups with low turnout.
By answering a quick question or two, participants can actually help you to understand and connect their thoughts to the groups that they identify with. As an added bonus, demographic questions can also help to identify and increase participation among specific groups.
Do you need to add demographic questions?
When deciding whether or not to add demographic questions, ask yourself which views or perspectives will add value. Who do you want to hear from? If your goal is to get insights from certain groups of participants, then crafting an appropriate demographic question will help you make the most of the thoughts shared.
When should you add demographic questions?
- To track and boost participation in the exchange.
- To see the priorities of specific groups in your community or organization.
- To compare priorities across groups.
- To help identify the needs/concerns of participants.
- To enhance the capabilities of analysis tools such as Differences and Thought Themer.
When should you avoid demographic questions?
- When the topic is already organized into separate exchanges based on identified groups.
- When expected participation is small and/or the participants are within a single group.
- When demographic-based analysis does not align with your intention.
What’s in a great demographic question?
The value and insight added by demographic questions is connected to the quality of the question, how it aligns to your participants, and the intention of the exchange.
Below, we’ll dig a little deeper into these three concepts, which will help you make the most of your demographic questions and set you up for success in analyzing your results.
Your demographic question should be:
- a pointed question with an intuitive response option for each participant
- easy for participants to understand and respond to
- short and simply constructed (eg. a yes/no or either-or question)
- designed to group different sets of participants without overlapping
- worded objectively
⛔❌ Please indicate whether your child attends elementary school, or his/her grade
Participants with more than one child likely won’t be sure how to answer, and might use their discretion to respond in a way that you might not expect. This can potentially skew your demographic data.
✅ Please indicate whether your oldest child attends elementary school, or his/her grade
Being specific removes any confusion for participants, and they’ll be able to answer this question easily.
Demographic questions should accurately and effectively group participants in a way that you’ll be able to understand and use in your analysis. A good start is to consider modelling your response options after existing groups in your community or organization.
Likewise, the responses should accurately and effectively group participants in ways that make sense to them. You’ll want to provide responses that participants can easily identify with, but avoid diluting your results with several groups that are too small to provide meaningful insights.
The demographic responses should:
- reflect groups, regions, or roles associated with participants in the exchange
- avoid including small groups, unless this is an insight you are trying to highlight
- avoid including choices such as ‘Other’, ‘N/A’, or ‘Prefer not to answer’ whenever possible
Note: While options such as ‘Other’ and ‘N/A’ may encourage participants to respond rather than skip the question, these demographic responses may not be useful.
⛔ Please select the group which describes your involvement with us:
- Community Member
- Staff and also Parent/Guardian of enrolled student
- Staff and also Community Member
- Parent/Guardian and also Community Member
- Parent/Guardian, Community Member, and also Staff
- Prefer not to answer
Providing too many choices can water down your demographic data or result in choice overload, limiting your analysis later on. Reducing the number of responses while still covering most of the community is considered best practice.
✅ Recognizing that you may belong to more than one of the following groups, please select the one which you feel best describes your involvement with us:
- Community Member
This option covers all possibilities pretty well without diluting your demographic information. As the old saying goes, “Try to keep it simple as possible, and no simpler.”
Demographic questions are used to offer additional insights to the exchange leader. Demographic information can add important context, making your exchange results that much more insightful and impactful. For example, you could use demographic questions to demonstrate the effectiveness of your leadership team’s strategic plan, find areas of opportunity in your programming across grade levels, or engage hard-to-reach areas of the community that otherwise feel unheard.
🤔 Food for Thought
Avoid asking unnecessary questions that do not add value to the results. For example, if you’re using per-school exchanges for a district-wide initiative, asking which school participants are involved with is probably redundant.
Be clear on why you’re asking this demographic question. Is there a group that you or your team are particularly interested in hearing from? If so, it might make sense to ask targeted demographic questions that will result in smaller groups. On the other hand, if the intention is to get comparisons between groups to see if there is a difference in opinion, it’s probably best to provide fewer possible responses. This helps ensure that no group is too small to be included.
Lastly (and this is an important one!), avoid using leading questions that could influence which option participants choose.
The demographic questions should:
- support the intention of the exchange
- help you action the results
- add value to the results - if it feels unnecessary, go with your gut and avoid using it
⚠️ Do you identify as a student of Cherokee ancestry?
This type of question should be avoided unless there is specific interest in thoughts from participants who are of Cherokee ancestry. Otherwise, when attempting to compare across groups, it could pose a challenge since one demographic group will likely be much smaller than the other.
⚠️ Which school level do you most associate with?
A demographic question with broad responses should be avoided unless the goal is to compare large groups. In that case, broad groups that still make sense for your analysis will give larger sample sizes to work with.