Gathering honest opinions, insight, commentary and suggestions on completed camp sessions is an integral part of moving your camp program forward. Feedback gathering, in all its forms, is the first step in gauging the success of your programs straight from those people who have invested the most.
While you may revisit feedback forms for content every few years, do you grant the same scrutiny to your methods? That is, are your methods the most effective for the type of feedback you seek? The three main sources of feedback (camper, parents and staff) offer specific points of view that when combined can provide a more holistic view of your camp operations and be far more valuable in terms of evaluating and planning future changes. But do your collection methods work as well as they can?
Four Feedback Methods: Benefits and Limitations
The proliferation of technology has improved our methods of feedback collection exponentially. Thanks to websites and apps that can compile, aggregate and, in some cases, spot trends and issues in our feedback data, we can now see feedback sooner and with more clarity than in the past. Even though there’s an ease to gathering feedback electronically, don’t assume that’s the only way to do so.
Feedback methods are the physical procedures used to collect feedback. There are four general categories of methods, each with a variety of options:
Pencil and paper
Application (App) based
Paper and pencil
Prior to campers leaving after a program session, offering a paper and pencil evaluation in the form of a survey or list of questions is a great way to collect on-site information. Immediate feedback is fresh and sometimes, very raw. For that reason, potentially increased subjectivity can render comments less helpful and more akin to a gripe session. Also, paper and pencil responses can be swayed by others if there isn’t adequate distance between individuals. Some folks want to get home as soon as possible, so they take the survey with them, making mighty promises to send it in and instead let it lapse, or think of more detail at a later date they’d like to add. Still, the immediacy of paper and pencil reviews have a place and should not be dismissed completely in favor of other methods without thought and reason.
Feedback that comes from calling recent campers, staff and parents isn’t quite high-tech, but can offer some insights that might otherwise not make the paper/pencil cut. If you’re fortunate, you can catch someone when they have time to spare to give robust, valuable feedback. But in our time-crunched society, those moments are fleeting. If you’re not an experienced typist or adequate note-taker, you might miss important bits of feedback, and if the respondent isn’t able to talk open and honestly at the time you call, you risk less than candid responses. Keep in mind that some folks prefer giving oral feedback to written feedback, and consider giving respondents a choice in the matter.
We’ve all seen or heard of online survey/feedback websites like Survey Monkey. The variety of options and services these companies offer consumers is huge, and to use them effectively requires time, money, and bit of a learning curve in terms of software, login, setup and administration. The long-term benefit to online survey sites is the savings in paper and human hours. Giving online feedback, though, does not happen in the heat of battle, rendering some useful comments forgotten. However, giving time to ruminate allows feedback to be slightly more objective in a larger sense. Don’t forget to factor in internet accessibility and familiarity with the process of filling out online surveys, and options for those who miss the collection window but still want to contribute.
Like their laptop and desktop counterparts, app-based feedback programs save money and time from the start. Campers on their way home from camp can log on and give feedback while parents drive, and parents and staff can give responses at their leisure. While there are apps designed for capturing feedback, they may not have an equivalent app on the other side of the smart phone divide (Apple and/or Android, for example). Smart phone access itself may be the issue, and in some instances, the app download, installation or client log-in processes may be too complex. Thinking time and distance from the camp experience can combine to form a more objective review, but being able to write lengthy, in-depth feedback can be difficult given the parameters of small feedback forms and typing limitations on cell phone keyboards.
In the same way feedback forms and questions are modified and updated, so too should the methods your camp business uses for gathering feedback be reconsidered. Whether you’re looking to streamline collection efforts, give respondents more time to evaluate and formulate responses, or get deeper, more meaningful comments, explore the options for gathering feedback and tailor your methods to meet your needs.
Beth Morrow is an author, educator and summer camp program director for senior week at Camp Hamwi, a residential camp for teens with diabetes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org