What is a good response rate or participation?

In Pulse surveys we are not trying to generalize from a relatively small sample to a much larger population like we often are in customer or political research. With Pulses we are mostly talking about participation rates well above 50% (which is about the rate achieved in US elections) and generally in the 65-85% range. These are rates that political scientists and market researchers can only dream of.

So, what is a good participation rate?

In small organizations/schools/districts (<50) we should be aiming a little higher, perhaps 80-90% is a good minimum benchmark allowing us to hear from 4 out of 5 people on average. As we move to larger organizations we can scale our expectations down – with 500 students we will probably get a good sense of where we’re at with 70% of students so 70-80% is a good benchmark. Moving up to orgs of 1000+ we can probably aim around 65% as a lower bound – even though higher rates allow a stronger sense of involvement psychological

 Org Size  Ideal survey participation rate
 <50  80-90%
 500+   70-80%
 1000+  65-80%

Sometimes there will be reasons for even the above participation rates to be difficult, and one can certainly still get good statistical estimation from smaller samples in large school districts/organizations.

How to increase survey participation rates

Putting participation rates into perspective is often one of the first steps towards a healthier attitude to feedback that your organization can make. In the medium and longer term the best way to increase participation rates is to share results quickly and openly and demonstrate a genuine intent to make practical changes – those who didn’t respond this time may just be ready to join in next time.

You should also be sure to talk about the importance of participation in pre-survey communications. Great participation leads to great data, which leads to great results. 

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