Strategic planning can be a rich opportunity for state arts agencies (SAAs) to engage with artists and arts organizations as well as policymakers, leaders from non-arts sectors and the general public. SAAs use many methods to interact with their constituents, including town hall forums, listening tours, visioning sessions, focus groups, interviews and on-line discussions. Surveying—whether on-line, by phone or with paper—is another effective tool for including citizen voices in the planning process and for gathering data useful for decision making about an SAA's plans, policies, programs or procedures.
There are many benefits of strategic planning surveys. They afford anonymity and encourage candid feedback. In addition, surveys are versatile and can be adapted to pose questions that address any number of issues, such as understanding constituent needs, gauging customer-service satisfaction, evaluating programs, establishing funding priorities, collecting feedback on proposed strategic goals and reviewing rough drafts of a strategic plan.
Examples of State Arts Agency Surveys
Below, NASAA presents a collection of surveys that state arts agencies have employed as part of their strategic planning process. In some cases, analysis of results is also included. Where available, there is a hyperlink to the resulting strategic plan. These examples do not represent all the possibilities of strategic plan surveys, but they do demonstrate the many options available and are offered to serve as a point of reference and inspiration.
More examples—as well as tips on survey design and implementation—are available upon request.
The Arizona Commission on the Arts (ACA) uses its annual satisfaction survey to assess how constituents value its programs, services and staff resources. The survey, which was designed by SAA staff, asks the same set of questions in four categories: communications, resources, programs and grants. The survey's on-line platform enables an inquiry logic that only presents questions to respondents that are related to the SAA programs and services respondents have reported experiencing. ACA's survey analysis focuses on correlations between value and needs as well as those between previous and anticipated demand. Survey results are just one data set for ACA's strategic planning, but nonetheless inform all aspects of the agency's constituent engagement.
This survey was one part of the California Arts Council's (CAC) planning process for its 2014 strategic plan. It complemented CAC's listening tour events and one-on-one stakeholder interviews. CAC aimed to reach as many Californians as possible to learn how it can best serve local communities through the arts and creativity. The survey's questions are strongly focused and logically organized to that end.
The Delaware Division of the Arts used this survey, which informed its 2011-2015 strategic plan, to understand constituents' views of and participation in the state's arts ecology. The survey also asked respondents to prioritize the Division's various services and roles relative to its mission statement and to the fact that there are limited resources available to realize it.
The Maryland State Arts Council commissioned this public opinion poll as part of the process to develop its 2014-2019 strategic plan. It served as a follow up to a similar poll conducted five years earlier for the previous strategic plan. The 2013 iteration reached out to a respondent pool that geographically and demographically represented Maryland's general population, posing questions about the value of cultural opportunities to citizens. OpinionWorks, a research and strategy firm, conducted the telephone poll.
Through these three surveys, the Maine Arts Commission (MAC) aimed to hear from people across the state representing various demographics. Survey questions solicited feedback on the value of the arts to Maine's leaders in various sectors; how artists and arts organizations can increase their community impact with MAC's help; how to increase participation in the arts; which MAC initiatives will be most relevant in the future; and how state and local agencies can coordinate cultural development. A consultant designed the survey relative to input from artists, arts organizations, and a steering committee composed of leaders in community development, economic development, tourism, education, business, industry, philanthropy, and health and human services.
The New Hampshire State Council on the Arts (NHSCA) designed and deployed surveys specifically for two broad cohorts of stakeholders as part of the planning process for its 2014-2018 strategic plan. NHSCA worked with a consulting firm to develop the two surveys—one for artists and the other for organizations and schools—which helped the SAA reach beyond its expected constituency. The consultant also developed a report analyzing the survey results. Many of the questions for the 2013 artists' survey were recycled from a 2010 planning survey, designed by NASAA. This repetition helped NHSCA begin to collect longitudinal data about individual artists in New Hampshire.
To inform the development of its 2013-2015 strategic plan, the Nebraska Arts Council (NAC) put two surveys into the field. Through its telephone survey of public opinion, NAC aimed to understand Nebraskans' overall impressions of and participation in the arts. NAC, which sought feedback from citizens within and beyond the state's arts communities, used an independent research firm to help compile questions and conduct the survey. The on-line constituent survey, meanwhile, was designed by NAC's staff and board. The survey's web based platform directed respondents to question sets based on their identity as either an artist, an arts organization staff/board member, or an arts educator.
Every three years since 1995, the South Dakota Arts Council (SDAC) and South Dakotans for the Arts (SoDA) have partnered to conduct constituent research and strategic planning. In their 2014 constituent survey, which was deployed on-line, questions addressed the state of the arts and arts education in South Dakota. It also invited feedback on SDAC and SoDA programs and services. The goal was to identify priorities for strategic planning. To facilitate trend spotting, the survey recycled key questions from previous surveys about the strength of arts organizations, the health of artist businesses, and perceptions of arts education. The consultant that helped SDAC and SoDA develop the survey also prepared a summary report of the survey's results.
As part of the planning process for its 2014-2019 strategic plan, the Tennessee Arts Commission (TAC) conducted this survey to explore the state's arts environment. TAC was keen to understand perceptions about the arts as well as constituent satisfaction with TAC programs, services and activities. This input informed how TAC determined priorities for its strategic plan. A consultant assisted TAC in developing questions, conducting statistical analysis and segmenting survey respondents based on similarity of answers to key questions, yielding groups such as "happy campers," "TAC-appreciative struggling arts groups" and "besieged and challenged." The consultant's survey results report is rigorous in identifying which quantitative results are statistically significant. TAC, meanwhile, handled survey distribution and analysis of the open-ended questions.
The Wyoming Arts Council (WAC) deployed this on-line survey to inform its 2011-2015 long-range plan. The goal of the survey was to gather information from a broader range of the Wyoming public than might come to one of WAC's strategic planning meetings. The survey's questions were tactical, practical and personal. Some of them came from past WAC planning surveys, others were informed by WAC's previous engagement with constituents and still others grew out of a WAC board and staff retreat.
Strategic Planning Survey Considerations
Early clarity on the following issues can be extremely useful when designing a strategic planning process. Considering them during your "planning to plan" phase will help you make the most of your time and money.
When is the optimal time to conduct your survey?
Surveys done at the front end of a planning process can provide an early heads-up about issues and trends that may be useful to explore more deeply as planning proceeds. Surveys conducted toward the end of a planning process allow you to gather reactions to draft goals or objectives. Certain times of the calendar year (e.g., summer vacation season or the winter holidays) may affect response rates and/or the answers provided to some questions, such as those related to attendance trends.
What do you want your results to help you achieve?
This is a deceptively tricky question, but one that is helpful to explore before your survey is drafted. Consider whether you want to ask questions specifically designed to:
catalyze council or constituent discussions about specific challenges or opportunities
reveal strengths or weaknesses in your agency's programs, services or communications
test constituents' readiness for specific changes
secure information of interest to potential partners inside or outside of state government
articulate the distinctive value of your agency
support advocacy efforts
Do you want input from the general public or from the arts community?
Both types of feedback are extremely valuable, but they require very different methodologies. Questions of high importance to arts constituencies may have little meaning to the general public, and vice versa. Furthermore, a public opinion poll (such as the above example from Maryland) typically necessitates the use of sampling: systematically identifying a structured respondent pool that is designed to be geographically and demographically representative of a state's general population.
How might you tap into some specialized survey expertise?
The proliferation of on-line tools has made surveys easy and affordable to conduct internally or through student or volunteer efforts. If you take a do-it-yourself approach, consider how to harness some additional expertise to help you:
Avoid common pitfalls in question design or survey administration that may compromise the validity of your results.
Develop "branching logic" that can modify the questions a survey asks depending on the answers a respondent provides.
Use the data to probe issues of particular concern to your agency, such as responses from underserved areas.
Understand which results are statistically significant.
Tailor results reports to different audiences (e.g., your staff, planning team, council or constituents).
NASAA offers a variety of survey design and administration services on a fee-for-service bases, as do many consulting firms and academic institutions.
NASAA Assistance with Surveys
NASAA can provide assistance to your agency as it prepares and undertakes a strategic planning survey. Learn about How NASAA Can Help.
For more information on strategic planning surveys, or for questions about survey design and implementation, contact NASAA Research Director Ryan Stubbs. For advice on strategic planning practices and processes, contact NASAA Chief Program and Planning Officer Kelly Barsdate.