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.
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 2020 strategic framework. It complemented CAC’s two “telephone think tanks,” focus groups and one-on-one stakeholder interviews. This succinct survey aimed to reach as many Californians as possible to learn how they view, interact with and believe CAC can improve. The survey’s questions are strongly focused and logically organized to that end. Notably, CAC also offered the innovative possibility of responding to a few of its long-form questions through video, providing an accessible and alternative way to respond in more detail.
Part of the Georgia Arts Council’s (GCA) year-long strategic planning process for its 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, this survey collected more than 1,000 responses and was accompanied by four community based meetings and a multitude of stakeholder interviews. Notably, Create Georgia focuses heavily on equity, with questions seeking input on communities whose needs have not been met by previous GCA ctivities, practices that address cultural inequity, and suggestions for how GCA should support cultural equity and access to the arts.
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 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.
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.
The Pennsylvania Council on the Arts (PCA) undertook its most recent strategic planning process by combining community meetings, partner meetings, one-on-one interviews, networking and an in-depth “landscape analysis” with an online survey. PCA partnered with NASAA to develop a survey that collected data on arts organizations and focused on PCA’s emerging theme of Livable Communities. The results include demographic breakdowns and a weighted analysis to determine the quality of overall representation in the survey.
The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) used this survey as part of its ongoing planning process for its next strategic plan. This survey employed a design that ensures respondents receive questions that are relevant to them, allowing RISCA to collect a large amount of data from one survey tailored to a variety of respondents. Because of this, RISCA was able to ask 63 questions—collecting information ranging from impediments to accessing the arts to the needs of arts entrepreneurs—without overwhelming any single respondent. The detailed collection of data on artists, creative economy workers, arts attendees and arts organiztions also allowed RISCA to see how it interacts with stakeholders across the arts environment.
Every three years since 1995, the South Dakota Arts Council (SDAC) and Arts South Dakota (ASD) have partnered to conduct constituent research and strategic planning. In their 2017 constituent survey, which was deployed online, questions addressed the state of the arts and arts education in South Dakota. It also invited feedback on SDAC and ASD 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 ASD 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.
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:
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:
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 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.