You have different tools for listening: electronic surveys, interviews, observations, social media, etc. But how can you more accurately hear what current and prospective families are really saying, thinking, and feeling? The best way to improve your knowledge and understanding of families in your target market is to consciously make the effort to hear not only their words, but, more importantly, appreciate the complete message being sent.
Independent Ear & Interpretation
One of the drawbacks of conducting your own surveys of families is the fact that we all suffer from what is known as confirmation bias--the tendency to look for and interpret feedback and data in a manner that confirms what you already believe about your school. You've been telling yourself and others the same stories for so long, it's hard to view the school objectively in order to make better decisions. More intelligent people are particularly prone to this natural way of interpreting the world, noticing and accepting information that supports their current perspective.
Using an independent organization to collect and interpret the data is an effective way to listen better. School Growth, for example, was engaged by a school last December to help them determine what they could do to grow enrollment going into the preparations for 2016-17. After we guided them through a more complete understanding of their reenrollment and new enrollment trends over the last few years, we agreed to conduct the research to achieve the following objectives:
1. Determine the root causes of families opting out of the school
2. Understand the motivating factors for families who have most recently enrolled
3. Clarify unique characteristics and strengths of the school that can be leveraged
4. Recommend improvements regarding the enrollment and engagement processes for families, along with other aspects of the school
People were randomly selected and called from a list of non-reenrolled families (2012-2015) that was provided by the admission office. This contact information was used to call each family at least twice, producing full survey data from the large percentage of those who chose to participate. In addition, we met with small groups of newly enrolled parents.
Personal interviews were conducted with the responding families to understand their opinions, perspectives and experiences. The questions, which were approved in advance by the administration and board representatives, utilized a "laddering" technique to collect data regarding demographics, curricular and co-curricular programming, faculty, safety, communication, and relationships. From this data produced an analysis and dashboard, and then we worked with the board and administration to determine initiatives for the next 90-days, along with longer term goals.
Give Attention to Get Attention
Whatever strategy you use, strive to collect data from multiple sources so that you are really listening to your families. Sometimes when they are upset and start looking for other outlets to express their displeasure (e.g., social media or the parking lot), it's not just because they are "over-involved" parents. They may be frustrated because you're not paying attention. Do you want parents to read your emails, website, and other messages? Then start by listening and giving them your full attention. Listen better to grow enrollment.