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 In Data Analysis Tools, Data Journalism, Data Resources for Nonprofits, Experts, How To

“Short and sweet”, “mobile-centric”, “easy to use”… free online survey tools get a lot of positive descriptors in reviews, but “world-changing”? Not usually one of them. So why am I asking you if a free online survey tool can help you change the world?

Because I think this one can.

Veracio is the result of a partnership between Datassist, Orb, and Cognite Labs. Funded by the Knight Foundation Data Challenge, we worked together to create a free online survey tool we think can help change the world. Why a survey tool? There are so many out there already, you say. A fair point — but after years of working with journalists and nonprofits who relied on online surveys to provide the data they needed, we realized that existing offerings were lacking something crucial:

Weighting.

I’ve already talked at length about the importance and value of weighting, but in case you haven’t heard my thoughts on the subject, I can sum it all up in a single sentence: Weighting makes your survey results more accurate.

And who doesn’t want more accurate data?

The Veracio Difference

There are plenty of great free online survey tools out there. We’ve all heard of SurveyMonkey, Survey Gizmo, eSurveys and the many other online offerings competing for the chance to collect data on our behalf. Most offer a range of features, including a variety of question types to choose from, survey logic to ensure users get asked relevant questions, and all manner of reporting. Many of these tools are well-built. A few are even free. But we have yet to find one that offers automatic weighting using local census data.

Why does that matter?

In short, there’s no way to guarantee the people who answer your survey questions will provide an accurate snapshot of the community you’re surveying.

Maybe a disproportionately high number of women will answer. Maybe you won’t get enough responses from certain income or age groups to generate results that represent the population as a whole. Results that are not representative can badly skew your results. (And when I say “skew your results”, what I mean is “be downright wrong”.)

Why would you go through all the trouble of creating and sharing a survey when you have no way of knowing how accurate the results might be?

Weighting Results = Improved Accuracy

Now of course, you don’t need Veracio to weight the results of your data collection efforts. You can use any old free online survey tool.

Once your results are in, all you need to do is compare your survey respondents to the general population of the area you’re studying in terms of gender, age, income level, or education. (You did remember to ask those questions on the survey, right?) You’ll need to access local census data, and then you can determine how much extra weight you need to give to the answers of groups who are underrepresented in your participants. Easy.

Now this will mean an extra few hours (or days, or weeks, depending on the size and scope of your survey) of poring over statistics and calculating weights. And it will mean that all the neat and tidy reports and graphs your free online survey tool generated for you are basically useless. But what’s important is that, in the end, you made your data more accurate.

(Disclaimer: Assuming you’ve used the appropriate data and calculated your weights correctly, this method absolutely will make your data more accurate, and, because we’re a little bit nerdy about data here, this sounds like a perfectly reasonable solution to us.)

But what if the idea of endless spreadsheets and manual calculations isn’t quite your cup of tea? Does that mean you have to settle for the less accurate results generated by your survey tool? Should you just hit “publish” on that survey, cross your fingers, and hope for the best?

Until now, that’s pretty much what happened. Which is why we developed Veracio.

Veracio - the free online survey tool that will help you change the world.

A New Free Online Survey Tool

If you’d like to minimize inaccuracies in your data without all the extra work of weighting, Veracio is the answer to your problems. Simply create a free account and start surveying — our free online survey tool will prompt you to select from our weighting questions and then automatically apply those weights to all your responses.

Not sure it’s making a difference? Veracio reports include both the weighted and unweighted results of your survey, so you can compare for yourself. It’s easy, and it will improve your analysis — and did I mention it’s free? Get started now, check out the tutorials for more details on how Veracio works, or get in touch with us if you have more specific surveying or weighting questions.

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