KM Component 3 – User Surveys

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

April 08, 2021

Surveys are essential at the start of a KM initiative to ensure that the program meets the needs of the organization. You should also develop processes for soliciting ongoing suggestions, providing feedback, and submitting change requests. 

You can use one-time or periodic user surveys and employee satisfaction surveys to determine user preferences, needs, and challenges and to determine how employees view a KM program and its components. Specialized surveys for specific roles such as community managers can also be crafted and distributed. There are three different types of surveys you can conduct to help ensure that your program meets the needs of your users.

Use an Opportunities Survey to identify current challenges and needs, and request suggestions for addressing them. Use this survey to determine business needs which knowledge management can support. This survey is generally conducted once when starting a new KM initiative, but can be used periodically to ensure that new requirements are identified.

Conduct a Resource Survey to compile a list of people, process, and technology components which are currently in use, determine the usefulness of each one, and request suggestions for additions. Use this survey to find out which tools are currently popular and to identify gaps in meeting user needs. This survey is generally conducted at the beginning of a KM program, and periodically repeated to calibrate and adjust the program components.

Implement a regular Employee Satisfaction Survey to solicit feedback on how your KM program is perceived by its users. Use this survey to stay in touch with how your users view the program, what they like, and what needs to be improved. This survey should be conducted monthly during the first year of a KM initiative, and annually thereafter if the results remain fairly stable.

How to Conduct Surveys

Surveys can be conducted in three ways. It is best to choose one method and stick with it to provide a consistent user experience. Online surveys are delivered on a web site which recipients must visit. Email surveys are sent to participants and must be returned. Personal surveys are conducted on a one-to-one basis.

  1. Online surveys are generally quick and easy for users to complete. Your organization may have developed or purchased its own internal survey tool. If such a tool is available, use it.

If not, you can create a custom web form using a web page editor, a team space tool, or by reusing one from another source. You can also create a custom word processing document which can be delivered on a web page, filled in, and sent by email.

Publicly available services such as SurveyMonkey, Alchemer, and QuestionPro offer both paid and free services. A comparison is available.

  1. Email surveys are sent as a message with a simple form to be completed and returned. Take care to design the form to be easy to complete and easy to compile the results. Use check boxes and radio buttons as much as possible, using free text entry only when necessary for open-ended questions.
  2. Personal surveys involve asking the respondents to answer a few questions during a telephone conversation or in person. The person conducting the survey should enter the results directly into a form or document so that they are captured electronically. The advantage of this type of survey is that the questions can be open-ended, customized, and tailored based on the answers being provided. If the conversation heads in a particular direction, the interviewer can adjust dynamically.

Of these three types, the online survey is generally the best, since the data is automatically collected and reports can be immediately produced. Email surveys are inexpensive and easy to create and useful if they are primarily requests for open-ended text responses. Personal surveys are useful for small sample sizes when you wish to directly hear from the respondents and learn from the conversations.

How to Distribute Surveys

You can distribute your survey in one of three ways. A wide distribution is good for capturing inputs from an entire population, although not everyone will participate. A representative sample works well when the population is large and it would be costly or disruptive to include everyone. And a targeted subset should be used if you want to get feedback from a special class of respondents.

To solicit inputs from everyone in the organization, send an email message to a wide distribution list. For an online survey, include a link to the survey web site. For an email survey, include the actual survey, either in the body of the message or as an attachment. For a personal survey, include a request for a phone or in-person appointment. Be prepared to receive replies from only a small percentage of the population. If you want to increase the response rate, have the senior executive send the message, with follow-up messages once or twice after the initial distribution.

For a random subset of the organization, send a message to a representative sample of your target audience. Select a random cross-section of the total population that should include a wide range of typical users. Strive for a balance in the geographic and organizational composition of the sample. For recurring surveys, ensure that once surveyed, participants are not surveyed again for at least one year. This will ensure the ongoing diversity of replies, and avoid pestering recipients with repeated requests.

If you want to reach a specific class of user, send the message to a targeted subset of people who meet selected criteria. For example, you may wish to reach those who perform a specialized role particularly relevant to the survey. Or you may wish to determine the views of people who are highly respected throughout the organization and follow their suggestions. And it may be useful to poll thought leaders since they will influence many others in the organization.

The email message should be concise and explain why the survey is being conducted; why it is important to them; what will be done with their input; how long it will take to complete; and how to complete it, or for a personal survey, how to schedule an appointment or when someone will follow up to do so.

To increase the response rate, you might wish to use one of the following tactics. Offer an inexpensive prize (e.g., a gift card) to the first 50 people who reply. Give an expensive prize (e.g., an iPad) to someone chosen at random or to the most complete or helpful reply. Have the senior executive send out the survey with a personal plea or mandate for participation. For a survey sent to targeted audience, inform the recipients that they were specially selected because they are highly respected thought leaders who opinions are valued.

Set a deadline for replies that is long enough to allow people to catch up or return from vacation. But make the time allowed short enough so that recipients know that they have a limited time only to participate. Two or three weeks is a typical amount of time to allow.


Finding out what your users are struggling with, what they would like to have provided, what they are using, and how they like what you are providing to them is an important part of being responsive. You should avoid appearing isolated, arrogant, and disinterested to your constituents. But realize that you will never be able to satisfy everyone, or satisfy anyone completely. Strive for continuous improvement and ensure that people at least acknowledge that you are trying to do so.


Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Please read Stan’s additional blog posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. You may also want to download a copy of his book, Proven Practices for Implementing a Knowledge Management Program, from Lucidea Press.  And learn about Lucidea’s Inmagic Presto and SydneyEnterprise with KM capabilities to support successful knowledge management programs.

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