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As a leader, your decisions matter. And you rely on quality data to inform them. From surveys to Exchanges, ThoughtExchange gets you the data you need—all in one place. Here’s how.
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November 16, 2023

Sarah Mathias

Getting the Data You Need: Choosing the Right Engagement Tool for the Right Outcomes

5 minutes

Leaders make dozens of decisions a day. While some have minor consequences, others profoundly impact the entire organization. Whether developing effective strategic plans, improving school climate, or navigating uncharted change, your decisions matter. So, how do you ensure you’re making the right decisions quickly and transparently?

A comprehensive engagement and survey platform will help you tap into your community’s collective intelligence. With both survey and Exchange technology at your fingertips, ThoughtExchange has all the engagement methods and data analysis you need in one platform, saving you time and money.

Wondering when to use a survey, an Exchange, or both? Consider your project goals, your target audience, and your research resources. How you gather insights depends on them.

In this Article

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What’s the difference between a survey and an Exchange?

Surveys for quantitative data

Surveys are typically structured, with closed-ended questions, offering predefined response options. Efficient and easy to administer to many people, users can statistically analyze the data to identify trends, patterns, and correlations.

Surveys are optimal for gathering fast, quantitative data and measuring a large group of people’s attitudes, behaviors, or opinions.

Tip: Hesitant to use open-ended survey questions because of the time it takes to analyze the responses? Don’t be! ThoughtExchange analyzes your data in seconds.

Exchanges for qualitative data

Exchanges surface refined, nuanced insights. They allow leaders to gather participant-prioritized data—participants see and rate one another's ideas.

Exchanges offer an open-ended approach that encourages participants to share their thoughts and ideas in response to a broad, open-ended question or prompt. Often a prioritized list of action items, leaders can use the final output to make informed decisions.

Exchanges are perfect for gathering qualitative feedback and prioritizing people’s ideas and opinions.

When to run a survey, Exchange, or both

Before choosing which method you’ll use to gather insights from your group, carefully consider your goals, the target audience’s characteristics, and the resources available to conduct the research.

What outcomes do you hope to achieve? Do you want to gather demographic data about a group of people or establish trust and generate ideas to solve a complex problem? Are you measuring school climate to inform your district’s strategic plan? In some cases, you’ll want to run a survey; in others, an Exchange makes more sense. Or use them together as complementary data-gathering methods.

For extensive, complex conversations with high stakes, you need excellent survey questions for understanding populations and perspectives and well-thought-out Exchanges for learning, common ground, and understanding nuance.

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When to run a survey

Use a survey to gather quantitative data quickly and easily and measure a large group of people’s attitudes, behaviors, or opinions. ThoughtExchange Surveys are available in Basic and Advanced packages to suit your needs.

Basic Surveys efficiently gather and analyze qualitative and quantitative data to quickly and accurately inform decisions. With various question types, instant analytics, branching, and participation grouping, Basic Surveys has everything you need for fast, effective engagement.

Advanced Surveys are great for more extensive, annual feedback surveys. Access custom and templated survey questions, advanced analytics for comparison and data tracking, CSV data import and export, secure AI analysis, and much more. Analyze thousands of open-ended comment-box answers in seconds with ThoughtExchange’s AI Advisor tool.

Use Surveys:

  • To run core feedback surveys for school climate or employee engagement
  • To collect benchmark comparisons while tracking and measuring improvements over time
  • To gather quality quantitative data for reporting to state agencies or funders
  • To identify outliers and trends across demographic groups

When to run an Exchange

Use an Exchange to gather qualitative feedback and prioritize people’s ideas and opinions.

This multi-directional dialogue tool simplifies and speeds up qualitative data collection and analysis. Leaders ask one open-ended question, and participants anonymously share their answers and read and rate each other’s answers. As they participate, they prioritize the data, so you easily see the ideas that resonate most with the group.

Use Exchanges:

  • To generate ideas and prioritize solutions for a complex problem. (e.g., getting input on a bond, addressing a community issue, etc.)
  • To gather feedback on a broad topic or concept without predefined responses. (e.g., “What are your thoughts on our strategic priorities?”)
  • To facilitate a brainstorming session and allow participants to build on one another's ideas and perspectives.
  • To gather feedback from diverse community members and prioritize the most important ideas based on collective input.
  • To build community trust and establish buy-in for change.

When to run both a survey and an Exchange

If you want to dig deeper into an issue and understand why participants answered the way they did, use both—run a survey first, then follow up with an Exchange.

Most survey tools can tell you what your participants are concerned about—but not why. ThoughtExchange ensures you get rich qualitative data from climate and staff surveys to understand people’s priorities.

With ThoughtExchange, districts no longer need to run complex strategic planning engagements with multiple tools. Climate survey data is gathered, analyzed, visualized, and reported all in one place. Take weeks off your survey processes while you build stronger engagement.

Dealing with a sensitive topic? Use Interview, our AI-enabled qualitative feedback tool that interviews participants 1-on-1. Interview gets you feedback on sensitive topics that require participants to iterate on their answers. Understand your participants’ unique perspectives, while bringing a comprehensive view to emerging themes. Use Interview for in-depth, one-on-one conversations with as many people as you need to hear from—anywhere, all at once.

Get the data you need with ThoughtExchange

Whether you’re perfecting your organization's strategy, working to improve school climate, or building an inclusive culture, ThoughtExchange has the capabilities to get you the information you need to succeed. From surveys to Exchanges, you’ll get the whole story with one innovative, intuitive platform!

Understand all the angles in real-time, get an accurate, unbiased picture of what your community needs and supports, and involve your people in the decisions that impact them most, with ThoughtExchange.

"Surveys in ThoughtExchange have been a game-changer. With the Survey piece, we don’t have to tie in another system like a Google form or SurveyMonkey in addition to our Exchanges. People are less willing to do two different surveys, so getting them engaged through one platform has been great."

Sondra Whalen, Director of Student Programs and Communications, Vernon-Verona Sherrill Central School District, NY

Author’s note: This post was originally published on March 28, 2023, and has been updated for accuracy and relevance.
Sarah Mathias
Sarah discovered her love of words when she penned her first journal in grade 4—she hasn’t stopped writing since. With a BA in Sociology and an MPC in International/Intercultural Communication, Sarah honed her corporate writing skills in the travel insurance and fashion industries before working with ThoughtExchange. She brings her collaborative spirit and commitment to antiracism, diversity, equity, and inclusion, along with her penchant for grammar jokes.

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