Using Surveys for Better College Board Meetings

The ability to create and share surveys is one of the most useful tools software like Directorpoint can offer a college board. Maybe you use the survey feature, but want to make sure you’re making the most of what it has to offer. Or maybe you haven’t touched the survey tool and are looking for a reason to try it out. Either way, you’re in the right place. This is the first installment of a new series we’re calling Feature Focus where we take a closer look at our features, breaking down the benefits and best practices boards need to know.

We’re going to kick this series off by talking about surveys. What do they do? What are they good for? And what best practice will benefit your college board? Let’s get started!

   The Fast Facts
  • Surveys are questionnaires in which directors can respond to multiple choice or short-answer questions.They aren’t just good for gauging consensus. Surveys can also be a powerful tool for helping a board improve.
  • Best Practice: After each board or committee meeting, send out Directorpoint Post-Meeting Assessment to learn what the board can do to operate more effectively. The board must agree on how best to address the feedback received.

So what is a board survey? Surveys provide the directors, administrators, and executive assistants of your college board with the opportunity to ask each other questions in a way that breaks the mold of the traditional voting structure. Surveys are often used to collect responses on a series of related questions such as in a conflict of interest questionnaire.

Surveys vs. Votes

Let’s take a second to clear up the differences between a survey and a vote. In a vote, board members answer a single question with a single response.

There is only one question format: a single-response multiple choice question. When creating a vote, administrators have the option of allowing directors to add a comment to their vote. While administrators will always be allowed to see how each board member voted, they can choose whether or not to make the results public to the board of directors. To be clear, this is not anonymous voting per se, but can go a long way in coaxing more candid feedback out of college boards.

In a survey, directors can answer multiple questions; either in the single-response multiple choice format or as a free-response short answer question. While there is no option to comment on a survey, administrators can use free-response short answer questions to give directors a chance to comment or elaborate on their response to the preceding multiple choice question. Unlike a vote, the results of a survey are always public and visible to the board.

Both surveys and votes allow administrators to upload and attach files to accompany questions, as necessary. Both features provide options for scheduling the date and time of publication (when the survey or vote will be made available to directors) and expiration. Both allow administrators to include specific members at the board, committee, or individual levels.

How Surveys Benefit a College Board

Surveys offer a number of benefits outside of simply providing more functional flexibility in how a college board collects input from its members. If you’ve read our article on what boards can do to mitigate bias, you’ll know that appointing a diligent moderator can go a long way in detecting and addressing the issue before it can impact the outcome of a decision. Sometimes the best way to identify and challenge director bias is by creating opportunities to think critically about options or solutions one might otherwise support. McKinsey Quarterly has suggested that assigning light homework following a board meeting is an effective method of asking board members to independently reexamine their opinions once they have removed themselves from an environment in which they feel those opinions need to be defended. Surveys can be a valuable tool for asking questions which probe critical thinking, expose bias, and make sure that all options and solutions have received thorough consideration.

Surveys can be a valuable tool for carrying out various decision-making methodologies. The Delphi Technique is one of the strongest methods for collecting, evaluating and prioritizing expert opinions to inform a board decision. Delphi studies rely heavily on the use of questionnaires which follow the question structure Directorpoint’s survey feature provides.

In some ways, the survey feature functions as a digital middleman for receiving candid feedback. Maintaining honesty and candor throughout deliberation is one of the biggest social obstacles a college board can encounter. Surveys provide a means of separating a board or committee member from their opinions, providing a layer of disassociation between the two. Of course, creating a digital “middleman” is not nearly as effective in preserving candor. However, it can help in cases for which college board members are asked to weigh in on a series of related questions.

While it’s clear that Directorpoint’s survey feature offers a broad range of benefits, we’re going to focus in on one way college boards can use surveys to operate more effectively: conducting self-assessments.

Using Surveys for Self-Assessments

Self-assessments, also called “self-evaluations” are a valuable, yet often-underrated tool for helping a college board make more effective decisions. We don’t need to explain what they are; it’s in the name. But it’s important to know that they come in all shapes and sizes. Boards often conduct thorough self-evaluations in regular intervals, annually, semi-annually, quarterly, etc. The structure of a self-assessment questionnaire is perfectly structured for the survey format. Take a look at this example from Dalhousie University. The example assessment is fairly thorough. The survey questions indicate that it’s meant to be administered on a yearly basis.

A 2014 survey from Deloitte found that 60% of boards meet seven times or more in a given year. This means, at best, that for 60% of organizations, an annual self-evaluation provides one single opportunity to learn how the board might improve for every seven meetings. College boards can do better. Directorpoint can help.

The Best Practice

This Best Practice covers a procedure college boards can follow to incorporate self-assessments as a standard follow-up to board and committee meetings.

Before implementing this Best Practice, board members must agree on how survey results will be addressed.

Responses can be added to the top of the agenda for the next board or committee meeting. If college boards anticipate a large number of responses, administrators may be asked to condense the results into key ideas or action items and add them into a second survey. This allows board members to vote on the ideas they would most like to see implemented, prioritizing discussion time in the next meeting.

To create and share a Post-Meeting Assessment:

  1. After the meeting has adjourned, log into Directorpoint.
  2. Create a new survey.
    1. In the Title field, name the survey using the following convention:
      [Board or Committee Name] Assessment [Meeting Date]

Example: Finance Committee Assessment 1/13/19

    1. In the Description field, enter the following:
      This is a voluntary assessment survey. Responses will be used to improve efficiency and effectiveness. Your feedback may be introduced for discussion subject to an electronic vote prior to the next meeting.
    2. Under “Survey Duration”, select Open Until.
    3. In the End Date field, select the date which is seven days before the next meeting of the selected board or committee.
    4. In the End Time field, select 8:00 AM.
    5. Select “Notify Admins when Closed”.
    6. In the Questions field, paste the text of Directorpoint’s Post-Meeting Assessment.
    7. Click Save & Notify.

Note: If you wish to send the survey to specific members of the selected board or committee, click Selected Members and choose the members with whom to share the survey. Then click Save & Notify.

  1. Once you have received notification that the survey has closed, log into Directorpoint.
  2. Click Surveys.
  3. Download the results of the Post-Meeting Assessment survey.
  4. Address the results of the Post-Meeting Assessment survey according to the pre-defined methods and processes to which your board or committee has agreed.

We hope this article has given you a better understanding of how surveys can be used to help college boards implement a recurring self-evaluation. For the latest insights on decision-making and board governance, visit the Directorpoint Blog. To learn more about what we can do to help your college board, schedule a demo today!

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