Surveys capture the responses of workers to set questions, and have been a mainstay of workers’ inquiry since its inception. They can focus more selectively on distinct areas like their labour tasks or wellbeing, or particular events such as changes to the labour process.


Surveys are widely used in social science, public opinion and customer research as well as within organisations to gain insights into job satisfaction, training needs and so on.

If employing a survey as part of a workers’ inquiry, it may be worth discovering what other workplace surveys are already used, by whom, for what audiences and for what purposes.


  • Low cost to administer and analyse.
  • Potential to reach large samples of participants – within or across multiple workplaces or settings and by ‘snowballing’ sample (participants share the survey, or a link to it, with others).
  • Can be completed at convenient time, away from workplace, in private or anonymously.
  • Potentially improved validity as participants less liable to be influenced by an interviewer, others in a focus group etc.

In Practice

Survey responses vary widely – both response rates (which may be very low if the survey is off-putting in some way, e.g. being too long) and the quality of the data collected. For example, it is difficult to reproduce in a survey the kind of contingency and follow-up questioning offered by good semi-structured


Start with interviews

In order to focus the survey and make it more concise, it may be worth doing some initial work through interviews or focus groups. You can use this to help identify key questions or themes to be addressed in the survey.

This is different from the more commonly used mixed-methods approach of doing a survey and then recruiting participants for subsequent interviews.

Provide a focus

Providing a focus, prompt or scenario may be more successful in engaging participants and gathering responses than presenting them with the list of abstract questions or Likert scale (agree/disagree etc) items.

For example, an image, a short excerpt from another worker’s experience, or from an important document with a question like “has something like this happened to you?” or “how is this implemented in your workplace?” can be a good starting point.

Reflect a process or time sequence

Again, this provides a conceptual structure for the survey. For example, questions arranged to reflect the working day can be a useful framework.

Prepare your participants

Make sure you give people an idea of how long the survey will take.



Google Forms
Google Docs


Further Reading

Cantiere per Practiche Non-Affermative. (2012). Designers’ Inquiry: an inquiry on the socio-economic condition of designers in Italy. Retrieved from