How to use surveys to build more meaningful events

For the past three days I’ve been up in the beautiful leafy valley of Otaki. I was co-facilitating the first gathering for Mindfulness for Change — a new organisation that’s all about creating more compassionate action on the planet.

On the ride up to Otaki, one of the participants asked me:

What was with that survey you sent out? Why did you ask all those questions?

Our pre-event survey didn’t just include all the standard questions about name, email, emergency contact and food allergies.

We also included a bunch of questions prompting people to consider things like:

  • Why are you coming to the event?
  • What do you need to do to stay well at the event?
  • What three words describe how you’re feeling about the event?
  • How can we support you to thrive at the event?
  • What are you nervous or unsure about?

Arduous questions. Yet, amazingly, every single person completed the survey.

So why ask those kinds of questions?

Relationships first, projects second

A concept from tikanga Maori is the idea of whakawhanaungatanga. The process of building meaningful relationships.

Consider a time when you’ve wanted somebody — or a group of people — to do something. Perhaps you wanted them to change how they work together, or you wanted them to take action on a meaningful project.

How did you go about convincing them to take action? Did you design a process to manipulate them into identifying and taking responsibility for specific actions?

My experience is that this just doesn’t work. You might believe 100% in your awesome idea. But when you try to facipulate others into doing that idea… their motivation soon fades away.

The concept of whakawhanaungatanga emphasises the power and importance of building relationships first. Actions will then follow — if actions are truly needed, wanted and justified.

Relationship-building starts long before you ever meet somebody

Let’s come back to the pre-event survey. Why ask such deep prompting questions?

Simply put, those questions prompt people to consider who they are and what’s their relationship to the group.

This means that when people arrive, it takes far less effort for them to reach into their past experience to consider what they can offer to the group. Every person has a unique story to tell; a unique perspective to offer.

The questions also give invaluable information to facilitators.

“I’m worried I won’t have anything to offer.”
“I’ve got this crazy idea I would love to get feedback on… will there be a time for that?”
“I really need some time to myself at the event…”

You won’t know this information unless you ask. You can then tailor your event or programme to mitigate some of these uncertainties — allowing people to thrive.