Everything you need to know about reporting survey data
Reporting and Online Dashboards
After carrying out a market research survey, there are several ways to report on the data. By reporting, we are referring to the preparation of reports (e.g. as Word documents, PDFs etc), presentations (e.g. in PowerPoint format) or online dashboards. Moving reporting online has some tangible benefits. We offer some advice on choosing the right software if you want to move to online reporting. We cover the production of summaries of the responses to each question and cross-tabulations in our analysis section.
For many years, market research has provided results from surveys in PowerPoint presentations. While PowerPoint has its undoubted strengths, it only provides a static report that you cannot explore more fully. There is, we are pleased to say, a move towards delivering data in online dashboards. This method has been too expensive for most projects, but rapid changes are emerging in the market research industry. MRDC is at the forefront of this change.
To a great extent, the method of reporting survey data will be dependent on the client or end user’s preferences. Traditionally, market research agencies have provided survey findings as a PowerPoint presentation. While this method has served well for many years, online dashboards are increasingly being used as a more suitable method to distribute survey data. PowerPoint (or similar) reports are, by their nature, static reports that do not allow for further exploration. Online dashboards are the future of most market research reporting even though PowerPoint will continue to have its place.
With tools like The CYS Platform now available, everyone can afford online dashboards. The question will soon be ‘who can afford not to provide online dashboards?’. One significant benefit of online dashboards is that the user interface and detail can easily be customised to meet the needs of each type of user – the CEO may want to view different data to someone working in another part of an organisation.
For many surveys, it has been traditional to produce a single PowerPoint presentation summarising the findings and showing the most valuable data. This task is time-consuming to complete and can be further complicated if, for example, some records are not available until the last minute. However, the task becomes far greater if multiple reports are required. The problem can multiply for multi-country studies where you want an identical or similar report for each country. Or, where you want a large number of reports, possibly hundreds, with one for each outlet.
Tracking studies, where data is collected and reported regularly (e.g. quarterly), present another challenge. Typically, you want to produce the same reports each wave with the relevant updates. Report automation offers a solution to this, but, again, online dashboards with data fed into the database automatically is likely to more efficient for both the data provider and the data recipient.
An early consideration if you are managing a survey is the choice you will have to make between reporting your research as a document, such as Word, PowerPoint, PDF format, or as an online dashboard. MRDC Software has two quite separate products to help you with these two types of reporting – for documents, we recommend Snap; for online dashboards, we recommend The CYS Platform. Clients may be more likely to expect you to produce a document, but online dashboards offer a lot more in most cases. Let’s consider the things to weigh up:
|Topic||As a document||As an online dashboard|
|The time needed to prepare||If carried out manually, it will be a time-consuming task, which is prone to error||Dashboards can be built quickly with platforms like The CYS Platform. If they are custom-built, they may take a lot of time|
|The software cost||There are some tools available that can help to produce documents, but they still need a lot of user preparation time and may only be viable for big tracking studies||Many platforms are highly over-priced, but The CYS Platform is affordable.|
|What’s the shelf-life of the data||More suitable for projects that are aimed at fast results only||Ideal for projects with a longer shelf-life, tracking studies and multi-country studies|
|What audience do you have?||PowerPoint presentations may work well when you are delivering results to an individual or a finite team||Online dashboards can be shared amongst colleagues and get more ‘presence’ in the boardroom|
|Accessibility||Will depend on the availability of documents online||Available anywhere with an internet connection using any internet-enabled device|
|Ability to dig deeper into the data||Not available||Can be easily made available|
Before exploring the best ways to handle data reporting, let’s, first of all, look at the often-neglected topic of data management. Whether you are reporting on a small one-off survey or a large tracking study, you will need to consider the best ways of getting from your respondent data to the reporting format that you want. If you are planning to prepare reports manually in one of the Microsoft Office or Google products, what follows will be of little importance to you. However, having some way of bridging data from your preferred data collection and data analysis tools to your data reporting system is always worth exploring.
If you are going to use any software for survey reporting other than the tool that collected or analysed the data, you should check your data can be transferred easily from one system to the other. We would always recommend that you use Triple-S compliant software as it will ensure that data can be quickly and reliable transferred. Some vendors may suggest that SPSS compatibility is just as good, but SPSS does not, in our opinion, always store survey data in convenient forms for transferring to other systems. Some systems, like Snap carry out data collection, data analysis, reporting and online access to clients all in one platform, which, of course, simplifies the whole task.
When managing surveys such as tracking studies or surveys carried out annually, there is a need to consider data structures. Tracking studies tend to evolve. For example:
All these seemingly minor changes may not affect most of the research process, but they can have a significant impact on the reporting phase regardless of whether you use software or not. While there are an increasing number of tools available to generate or assist with the production of research reports, many do not have the functionality to manage these practicalities. Both our products, Snap and The CYS Platform have a complete set of tools to handle this part of the process.
While data management may need some manual interventions, having applied these rules or specifications, the rest of the process should be as automated as possible. Ideally, report documents or online dashboards can be updated automatically and, in the case of online dashboards, in real-time. Automation is an important consideration as loading, and re-loading data needs as easy as possible. It is only possible to minimise errors where ‘sensible’ automation is in place. In the real world, data will need to be re-loaded because of, often minor, errors in your research processes. In our experience, the importance of any such inefficiencies is often under-estimated.
The market research industry has been slow to provide survey data online. This failing is especially true when it comes to providing survey data in online dashboards. While most business data is easily accessed online, survey data is seldom available in data visualisation tools. This is the biggest change that MRDC Software, as a company, is advocating and providing with The CYS Platform that we offer. Online dashboards should be the norm not the exception. The move to online dashboards is gathering pace and we expect to see many improvements in the next five years, both in terms of ease and, particularly, in terms of viability.
To date, most online dashboards that are available for market research surveys have been for sizeable tracking studies or large multi-country studies – in other words, where there is a big budget. This is entirely understandable as dashboards have either been custom-developed by programmers or have used high-priced systems which are aimed at the business intelligence market. In a nutshell, these solutions are too expensive for most survey providers to buy. Custom dashboards are not only expensive (in most cases) and well beyond the budget of even a reasonably large market research survey, but they are slow to develop and cannot be available soon or immediately after fieldwork is complete.
Besides the problem of the high price tag and the time it takes to generate an attractive, professional dashboard, most of the current products are not suited to market research data with all its peculiarities. For example, multi-response questions, aggregation of the top two boxes in rating scales and much more. Also, market research data is completely different from almost all other business data in that most surveys have a relatively small number of records with a lot of data fields. How is it different? And, why is different specialist software needed? Most other business data has thousands (or even millions) of records with a small number of data fields. This means that the tools you need to manage and merge your data need to be suitable for handling market research data – most tools are not. Business information (BI) software tools tend to be unsuitable for market research data although the dashboards they produce might appear, at first sight, to be suitable.
The simple answer is: it is what nearly all users of survey data want and, in some cases, what they would expect. The reasons are generally readily apparent, but there are some less obvious reasons. They include:
One of the most underrated considerations when looking at systems that provide data visualisation facilities is the importance of data management. There are some tools on the market which will produce a dashboard quickly; some of the products capable of this are at low-budget prices. These have their place in the market, but they all suffer from one thing besides a lack of functionality and flexibility – that is, data management tools.
Data management is, in our view, a pre-requisite. It does not matter how good the tools are for presenting your data – if you cannot manage the data properly, you will need to have a team in the back office handling data, cleaning data with the risks of making critical errors. An untrustworthy dashboard is worse than not having one!
Despite all the distinct advantages of an online dashboard, it is still important to consider whether purchasing a product like our CYS Platform is a good investment or whether some other cheaper solution is good enough. First of all, The CYS Platform has highly competitive pricing, making it possible to make all your surveys available to your clients or colleagues. But, cheaper alternatives do exist. Let’s explore the options.
At the low-tech end of the spectrum, it is possible to make interactive dashboards in products like Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets. If your goals are limited to providing basic results for a one-off survey, Excel may give you a viable solution. You need to remember though that Excel does not understand anything about survey data. Generally, unless your data starts in Excel, it will be difficult to plug in research data easily. Updates, data loads, merging data sources and real-time updates will all be, at the very least, challenging. Changes to the dashboard may be time-consuming, difficult or impossible.
Some of the low-cost online data collection tools do offer the ability to generate a dashboard. But, there’s the key – ‘the ability to generate a dashboard’. You will probably have little or no control over its appearance, what it includes and will likely suffer from the same problems as Excel.
There are one or two products which are joining the market that better suited to work with market research data – Iris is an example of one of these programs. The problem with these types of platforms, at least to date, is that they have limited functionality and tend to be over-priced – the last we heard the price of one such platform was GBP3000 per project – and most are more expensive than that. This pricing ensures that these platforms are not suitable for every project – there just isn’t the budget. You need a platform like The CYS Platform that has a low additional cost of additional users and additional projects. An additional project in The CYS Platform is GBP99 per month. If it’s shelf-life is three months, that’s 10% of the competitor product. Also, The CYS Platform allows you to develop any graphic of your choice and feed data into the infographic automatically. This feature is a highly powerful, easy to implement and of paramount importance if you want dashboard users to love your dashboard.
There are some systems like Tableau, Dapresy and others, which do offer powerful data visualisation tools. Their ease of use and price tag put them outside the range of most research agencies and are not viable for most projects. There’s little more to say if they are just too expensive to use.
Customised dashboards have had their place in market research for the bigger tracking studies, but are not appropriate due to the expense, the time they take to implement and, often, the amount of work needed to manage the data. Even minor changes tend to be expensive and slow to implement. Again, this approach is outdated and not a viable competitor to The CYS Platform.
Not every user of research data will want the same dashboard (or any dashboard at all, of course). The aim of The CYS Platform as a solution is to make it viable to produce high-quality dashboards for any project. Other solutions may offer a good solution for particular projects or particular clients, but we feel that researchers should be able to produce a high-quality dashboard easily for every project. The alternatives are always worth weighing up, but online dashboards will help you to exceed expectations and provide data as it is expected in most cases – and at the right price.
Research agencies should be in a position where they can produce a dashboard for (almost) every project viably.
(PDF, PowerPoint etc)
Although online dashboards are generally a preferred option, there are many occasions when documents are needed, usually in electronic formats, such as a PDF or a PowerPoint report. Sometimes, it is possible to automate or semi-automate these processes so that you can reduce the time spent and reduce the risk of errors. Some software systems help you to produce charts, reports and infographics. There are four approaches to these types of reporting:
Let’s look again at each way of producing reports and discuss the pros and cons of each method, taking into account the answers to the two key questions.
This option is always possible and may be the most practical one where you have a one-off survey requiring one report. However, with the right software, time can be saved and errors minimised. This becomes an unattractive route if you need multiple reports, such as where you are conducting a multi-country survey. Similarly, if you have a tracking study, you will prefer to update all or part of the report automatically.
Many of the lower-cost online platforms have some charting or reporting tools. Generally, of course, they are more powerful as you buy higher-priced products, but not always! Snap has tools for making charts, tables of figures, summaries, word clouds and more, for example. You can output these reports as PDFs or use the output in PowerPoint, for example.
Further, Snap allows your clients or colleagues to view reports online. When it comes to reporting, there is a considerable difference between software that produces reportable data and data that you can only view inside the software itself. Some software tools will make it easy to output data, so that you can prepare charts, for example, in Excel easily; others will not have these facilities and ‘trap’ your data inside the system.
There are a small number of specialist automated reporting tools on the market. These tend to be expensive and time-consuming to set up but are valuable for some complex tracking studies. These products work by having tags in reports that link data from Excel spreadsheets or other data inputs. In our view, they are only suitable for some surveys. MRDCL will be adding a charting component in early 2021 for such tasks.
One of the services that MRDC Software offers is developing custom solutions to produce the exact reports you need in the format you need. In principle, they are an alternative to using a specialist reporting tool. Rather than using the software yourself, MRDC Software is providing a custom solution using general purpose tools that it has developed over many years.
One of the key features of Snap is its ability to automate multiple reports. This facility is most beneficial when you want a report for each outlet or each region, for example. This feature is rare in market research analysis platforms and certainly not at Snap’s price band. Snap goes one step further than this by offering Smart Reporting. Smart Reporting means that reports can have variable content which is dependent on the data which forms the report. You can generate professional-looking PDFs by linking survey results to a document produced using Snap’s Smart Reporting functionality.
Custom solutions tend to work best for large reporting needs – where you want hundreds or, even, thousands of reports. Or, you require a batch of reports every month, for example. Custom solutions like specialist reporting tools can be an expensive solution. We have provided some guidance on the likely cost of such a task.
Report automation whether you are using a software solution or a custom solution needs careful planning. It is essential to consider what is needed and to minimise changes if at all possible. The staff time to manage and carry out such work can be considerable. This approach means that planning, data management, timetables and actual reporting need to be well thought out by all those involved in the process from collecting data through to end user’s needs.
Whatever your needs and goals, it is important to ensure that the software involved integrates well. All our software products for data analysis and reporting adhere to the Triple-S standard. This implementation makes it easy to move metadata from one product to another. Most products used in market research adhere to this standard.
If you are considering moving to a new platform, it is always a good idea to test the software work together. At MRDC Software, we are always willing to help with testing that systems integrate as well as you would expect them to.
We have developed a simple solution that allows you to put analyses you have generated in MRDCL or QPSMR into Excel, Google Sheets and PowerPoint. We also have a free tool called Tables Indexer, which can format tables from MRDCL or QPSMR so that they may be in a more convenient form to use within Excel, PowerPoint, Google Sheets etc. You can find more information here.
We have also developed a toolkit that can help you to input figures generated in MRDCL or QPSMR into Excel, Google Sheets or PowerPoint. This includes automatically updated infographics as well as charts and tables of figures. You can find out more about this here.
We consider ourselves to be expert in finding the right solutions for more or less any analysis and reporting needs. Set us a challenge to see if we can improve productivity and make your customers delighted. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or use our contact form.