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Not for the Faint of Heart: Conducting Statewide Surveys

Illustration of people looking at responses from Michigan

By Dori Pynnonen Hopkins, PhD, Evaluation Specialist at MPHI and Sara McGirr, PhD, Research Scientist at MPHI

Michigan Public Health Institute (MPHI) evaluates the Rape Prevention & Education (RPE) efforts in Michigan, which are funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Let us just start by saying: Conducting a statewide survey in the name of evaluation is not for the faint of heart. Survey research can be an incredibly useful tool that comes along with a steep learning curve, a high price tag, and mountains of details. Still, we are glad that we did it and we are enjoying the process of sharing our results for the greater good of preventing sexual assault, harassment and abuse. Here we will share potential uses and a link to the data.

In recent years, Michigan has begun to recognize the staggering realities of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment in our communities through high-profile court cases and the #MeToo movement. Preventing these offenses begins by identifying the norms, behaviors, and attitudes that support sexual violence of all forms and our community response that fails to hold people who take these actions accountable.

To further catalyze this process and build upon existing prevention efforts, our team at MPHI conducted a statewide survey focused on risk and protective factors for sexual violence perpetration in Winter 2018/2019. Over a thousand Michigan residents took part in a survey that will be used to focus strategies to prevent sexual assault, abuse, and harassment in our state. If you want to learn more about our process check out our Case Study in NSVRC’s Evaluation Toolkit.

We chose to do a statewide survey because our state health department and the CDC had clearly prioritized data-driven decision-making, but there was a lack of data on risk and protective factors for sexual violence at the statewide level for adults. Additionally, we received short-term supplementary funding specifically to boost the evaluation and data capacity of the RPE program. We could think of no better way to make use of these special funds than to fill this gap in available data! We envisioned that the survey data could be used to provide guidance for prevention efforts on which populations and risk and protective factors to target, to inform program development and adaptation, to support other needs assessment efforts, and to provide needed data for other researchers and state employees.

Now we are just beginning to dig into the data to see what we can learn! In the last year, we have produced an initial report with the survey outputs and created a data-sharing policy and request form so that researchers, policy makers, public health practitioners, preventionists, and community leaders can use this data in ways to benefit their own work. We have held several meetings with increasingly larger and more diverse stakeholders to determine appropriate next steps.  Within the next year, the group may:

  • Use the data from the section where we asked about connectedness to neighborhood, workplace, place of worship, and family to determine communities/spaces where work could be done to support social cohesion;
  • Break down data from the sections on social norms and supporting survivors by demographic groups to help target social norms campaigns (see data below);
  • Share economic support indicators with organizations to promote changes to leave and childcare policies  …and many more!

You can find the initial results here. We are also available for any questions you have about our process.