I read an article about a political pollster who liked focus groups over surveys. Duh.
He believed that you could get better information with a group sitting together. I agree. Unless, of course, people are afraid to talk (e.g. their boss is present). Live exchanges allow you to see body language, hear tone of voice, see how others react when someone speaks. You can’t get any of that in a survey.
But, focus groups take time and money. Surveys (if you create your own) can be free (with a minimal investment in time interpreting results.)
I prefer to create short surveys – five questions max. And I like to give people open-ended questions that demand a narrative response. “What’s your reaction to the change being planned?” Narrative comments give people a chance to tell stories, and give you a chance to hear how they are feeling. I find this subjective information invaluable.
I will use 1 to 5 scales (often referred to as Likert scales) if I am giving a survey to a very large group, but I don’t like numerical averages nearly as much. I learn a lot more from a couple of stories that illustrate people’s positive or negative reactions than learning that the Finance Department scored an item 3.4. That doesn’t tell me what to address.
I am big fan of SurveyMonkey.com. The free service is fine for most purposes and it is really easy to create a survey in a few minutes. Just remember to keep it simple.