I used to try to solicit feedback about MHVLUG on our mailing list, that always went poorly. What people were willing to tell me directly, if the opportunity came up, never would come up in a group. The social dynamics of groups very quickly turn into hearing a lot from a few people, and not very much from others. Those quieted voices often have really good pieces of feedback, and realistically are our audience. The loud ones only make up 10 – 20% of who show up to a meeting.
A survey, if small enough, breaks that down. People are really communicating 1 on 1 with you, and are very straight forward. You can ask questions you are looking for answers, and get answers you never expected if you leave people with a comment box.
We’re in the midst of this year’s MHVLUG survey, with 24 responses so far. The results are useful, and help enforce which talks people really like, and things people think they want to see more of. A few things surprise me:
There is a small, but measurable, part of our group that have zero interest in web technologies. For me, the web is like water, so I’ve been stacking the schedule a bit more in a web direction the last couple of years. I’m not sure that this feedback changes how Ben is going to build the schedule for this year (it’s still not quite sunk in that I managed to hand that task off), as no one is interested in everything, but it is interesting.
People really undervalue their knowledge. I asked a question this year: Would you be interested in presenting at MHVLUG, and if so what topic(s)? For the people that responded to that, most people said some form of “I don’t have anything interesting”. My experience is that that isn’t true. Most of the talks that I’ve scheduled have been by noticing something interesting that someone is doing, and saying, “hey, any chance I can get you to do a talk on that?”. In very few of the cases did people actually step up fully on their own. Perhaps we can break this down with more lightning talks, which are less intimidating.
If you run a local group and haven’t used a survey to figure out what your silent majority is thinking, you should. It gives you some grounding on what’s working, and what could use a change.