Surveys [was Mandatory Participation in Common Meals Survey Results
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Fri, 29 Jan 2016 06:42:37 -0800 (PST)
Surveys are much harder to do than most of us would believe before we tried 
doing one to find out what we wanted to know. Surveys are probably one of the 
best ways to prove something you wanted to be true — just use the words 
necessary to produce the result.

One reason the response is so low on this list is that we often are asked to 
fill them out, and often it is by a graduate student who wants us to do their 
research. The surveys are most often too long and too boring, and filling out 
surveys is not why we are here.

And they never post their results. Thank you for posting yours. A survey like 
this could dispel some cohousing myths and reveal some trends when matching 
older communities with new. Meals is one of those. Some communities have 3-4 
meals a week and others 1 a month. At Takoma Village, people want far more than 
we produce. But of course since the people who want have to produce them, it is 
a unfilled yearning. We have far more than we used to but part of that is 
increases population — almost double since move-in.

But of course you need a representative sample. And questions that can produce 
unambiguous responses.

Some things I’ve learned and have been taught:

1. Multiple choice answers are clearer. The question can be further clarified 
by the suggested answers. An “other” response is good and can often be 
tabulated as one of the options — the person just didn’t bother to choose one.

2. Test the questions, especially particular words like “mandatory” as you 
discovered. Another in the survey that I would have been flummoxed by is 
“cohesive.” As I sit here writing, I don’t feel any cohesiveness. Everyone is 
working — some away and some at home. We can certainly be cohesive in an 
emergency and there is nothing anti-cohesion going on, but are we cohesive?

3. Be sure your methods help produce an balanced result and that you collect 
the demographic data that helps you know that. 20 responses from one community 
and 1 from 20 communities? A survey that can only be completed if you know how 
to use Excel? Or by hand and mailed?

4. Get buy in. If you are sending a million surveys out, you can trust that a 
certain percentage will be returned. But in a voluntary survey online in a 
relatively small population it’s more attention to building trust. 

Reporting your results from this survey is certainly one of the ways to build 

I think using the list to develop such a survey would be a good exercise that 
would engage members of the list who rarely post but read faithfully. (You 
would be surprised how many of those there are.)

This is one survey that I encourage you to try again. A focused topic of 
interest to almost every community.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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