Gut instincts vs. data – What would you rather present to get intranet buy-in?

Surveys, focus groups and interviews - gathering the data to develop an intranet strategy.
According to research done by Modalis Research Technology, 72% of companies surveyed said the intranet improves collaboration and knowledge sharing. Additional benefits include reducing stress and confusion, improving the quality of work, enabling better decision making, improving communications with suppliers and customers, enabling speedier production and reducing costs.
There should be two points that jump out at you from this survey:
  1. An intranet is a powerful business tool.
  2. That assertion is supported by quantifiable data.
With virtually any other business opportunity, most organizations wouldn’t dream of not doing some market research to see how they’re doing and whether or not customers are happy with the product or service. Why should an intranet be any different? After all, intranets exist to serve employees, and employees exist to serve customers. Unfortunately, many of the 28% of companies who aren’t getting full value from their intranet are in this state because they failed to develop objective, user-informed data on how to turn their intranet into an effective business tool.
“In God We Trust, all others bring data.”
Edward Deming, a recognized guru in the field of quality and continuous improvement, made this statement to reinforce the importance of collecting data and statistics when driving quality improvements. While conducting user research on an intranet improvement project isn’t sexy or novel, it’s a proven best practice.
There are a few basic research methods that can provide you with the information you need and it’s important to cover at least a few different methods to ensure the accuracy of the results that you get because each method has a slightly different focus and will reveal different opportunities for improvement.

Online Surveys

One effective way for measuring the pulse of the organization in relation to its intranet is an online survey. Surveys are great for this high level view because they can quickly and efficiently reach a broad range of users without putting anyone’s confidentiality at risk. They can be done whenever the user has time and doesn’t require the attention of a facilitator or interviewer.
Surveys are most often used for “quantitative research” which means that they are suited for solving problems where you need to gauge or measure something. For example you may wish to survey how much time the average employee spends on the intranet for their job. Or you may want to know how many employees use the various sections in your intranet to see if there is more useful content that should be presented.
Although surveys and opinion polls have varying levels of participation with the general public, employees have a vested interest in the outcome of internal surveys and participation and engagement can be very high. The very act of including participation into design or redesign exercises leverages the intellectual capital business leaders are so fond of talking about.
Online surveys are gaining popularity because of their obvious economic advantage, speed and ease of administration.
According to Websurvey, here are some costs comparisons for surveys

Panel Size
Expected Response
Cost Per Response
Clearly, there are significant cost advantages and higher response rates attributed to executing an online survey compared to traditional methods.
In addition, research from Insight Express states that online research actually produces higher quality results than traditional methods. Their research shows that:
  • Online research respondents are more willing to answer questions on sensitive issues than they are in phone interviews. For example, if you asked employees if your intranet is meeting the needs of its users, how many respondents would answer “not at all” if asked in person, compared to an online survey?
  • Online research respondents are also more willing to answer open-ended questions than those responding to mail or telephone interviews.
Finally, the main benefit of online research is that since you can reach a broad range and quantity of users you can have a high degree of confidence in the accuracy of the results (as long as you can meet your set sample size requirements and ensure adequate representation across the different user groups.)

Focus Groups

Focus groups are an excellent complement to surveys because they help understand attitudes rather than measuring them. Although surveys are a great way to measure responses on clear issues, sometimes the topics are too broad or complex to get meaningful information. This is where focus groups come in. They are a great way to get a good understanding of how users utilize the intranet and what they want out of it. Its informal nature lends itself to lively discussion and debate and, with a skilled moderator, you can elicit valuable information on how people really work and what information is valuable to them and ultimately the business.
For example, a few years ago when the Royal Bank of Canada moved its insurance operations to a suburban location, approximately 30 km away from its downtown head office, there were many concerns about the distance between the centres and how it might impact the operations for meetings and face to face conversations. The business reasons for the location remained strong so the move went ahead.
When it came time to developing the intranet strategy, there were a variety of input mechanisms utilized including focus groups. A suggestion resulting from these inputs was to include a link to the local ministry of transportation camera which would show if there was any traffic congestion between the two locations, as well as detailed directions and travel time estimates. Users loved this feature and it helped to mitigate concerns over the traveling issues between the locations.


Individual interviews have the capacity to get user centric research and can be used effectively to delve deeply into the root causes of a specific intranet issue in ways that surveys and focus groups can’t. Interviewers can observe body language, tone and delivery, which is not possible or is difficult with other types of data gathering techniques discussed. Solo interview candidates are also free from the influence of other people, unlike focus groups where a few outspoken people can dominate the conversation. So for example, if you need to know “why” something is the way it is, or what the political history is behind the structure and governance of the intranet, interviews will help the most in gathering that information.
While this may seem like a lot of work, how do you know what you don’t know? So you’re either going to find out new information or confirm what you already knew and have the data to justify the effort with three different sources of validation. This can be invaluable when it comes time to find money in the budget to undertake the required changes, especially if there are political forces at play. If you find out some things you didn’t know, you have potentially saved the organization time and resources that would’ve been spent fixing the wrong thing. Either way, when you’re in a boardroom deciding on where to spend your budget, wouldn’t you rather have ideas that are backed up by data rather than what you think you know?

Prescient Digital Media is a veteran web and intranet consulting firm with 10+ years of rich history. We provide strategic Internet and intranet consulting, planning and communications services to many Fortune 500 and big brand clients, as well as small and medium-sized leaders