Strengthening agency partnerships through survey feedback

16 Feb 2022, by Admin in Harvest Blog, Boston Area Gleaners

Harvest VISTA Meredith Days serves as the Outreach and Communications Assistant at Boston Area Gleaners, located in Acton, Massachusetts. Boston Area Gleaners is a food recovery organization dedicated to harvesting surplus farm crops, preventing waste, and nourishing local families in Eastern Massachusetts. Boston Area Gleaners partners with farmers across the state and mobilizes teams of volunteers to harvest hundreds of thousands of pounds of surplus crops each year, which are distributed to over 2,000 hunger relief agencies in New England. 

Each year, Boston Area Gleaners sends out an agency survey to better understand the experience of the partners they serve. In the past, this survey has been a last minute solo project for an operations staff member, and usually pulled together right before the Thank You cards and tax forms are sent out in early February. The first major change this year was that the project became a collaboration between the two parts of the organization, administration and operations.

In 2020, the survey only got 4 responses, even though the survey went out to over 25 agencies. When the Harvest VISTA started the process for the 2021 survey, one of the first things the team established was a higher goal for the response rate. The agency survey team decided they would aim at bare minimum to get a 50% response rate, but with a combination of strategies, including calling and meeting with each agency individually over February and March, the higher goal would be over 75%. This goal seems achievable, not only because of a more concerted effort to reach out to the agencies personally, but also because of the time spent to make the survey user friendly and focused on the information the Gleaners really need.

To begin, the Harvest VISTA spent time going over the previous year’s survey and noting questions that no longer have relevance to the Gleaners programs, such as questions about the 2020 USDA box packing program. She also looked into each question to see if any could be combined or cut down, and created sections to make it easier for agency users to fill out the survey. The VISTA also researched different types of survey software to see which would be most user friendly (as well as free). In the past, the Gleaners had used Survey Planet, but for the 2021 survey, BAG moved to Google Forms. Google Forms allowed for easily created sections, a combination of required and optional questions, and descriptions of why questions were being included. The sections that ended up in the final survey were “Demographics” and “Experience working with Boston Area Gleaners.” Google Forms is also a well known survey software that many people already have experience with, which is another benefit. These improvements added up and contributed to the overall goal of the survey, which was to make it as easy as possible for agencies to fill out!

After meeting with the Agency Coordinator, the Harvest VISTA created the survey in Google Forms and then sent it to the larger agency survey group within the Gleaners. This included the Outreach Coordinator, the Executive Director, the Inventory Manager, the Data Systems Manager (who used to be an Operations Coordinator for the organization) and, of course, the Agency Coordinator. While this team brought a breadth of experience and insight into the survey, what the team quickly learned was that doing the type of consensus building that is essential to the Gleaners’ work was very difficult to do over email. There were multiple drafts to keep track of, and many different opinions on how best to shape the survey to garner the responses they were looking for. 

In order to keep everything on track and create the best version of the survey, a smaller group of this taskforce sat down to tackle the final draft. During this meeting, the discussion centered around the “why” – why are the Gleaners asking the agencies for any of this information? The group went through each question and discussed in depth why it deserved a spot in the survey. This method forced the team to think critically about each piece of information, and how it would be perceived by the survey takers. 

In the final version, the survey had been cut down from over 30 questions in 2020 to less than 20 for the 2021 version, and the questions that remain are concise, focused and retrieve important information. The survey centers around the experience of the agencies and their opinions about the produce provided, so questions include discussion of cultural relevance to the agencies’ clients, the experience of ordering and planning ahead, the pickup/dropoff experience, and information on the demographics of the clients at each agency, to name a few. 

The editing process and final meeting revealed the strengths and weaknesses of the survey, allowing the group to think deeply about how the survey could be used, not only for the 2021 season but into the future. The constructive feedback from each team member was imperative to its completion – further proving the benefits of the consensus building, team-based processes at the Gleaners. The survey was then finalized by the Harvest VISTA and Agency Coordinator, and has since been sent out to the agencies that the Gleaners worked with in the 2021 season. The results will help the Gleaners continue to improve the agency partnerships and learn from the transition period that came with moving and expanding the staff in 2021!