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Tackling Consultation Fatigue in Higher Education

by Rob Drury | Mar 1, 2023 | People & Culture, Strategy & Transformation

Higher education is a sector that never stays still. When things change so often, it’s important that we know what people are thinking, particularly if we’re planning on making interventions.

So, we send out a survey, but find we’re not getting responses. We ask colleagues why this might be and hear the dreaded response: ‘survey fatigue’.


What’s the problem?

Survey, respondent, or consultation fatigue is understood as a situation where there’s a lack of responses due to a lack of motivation to engage in consultation. It can happen for a variety of reasons, the most common being too many requests, or because of poor questions.

In higher education, we consult on everything from offerings in the campus shop to understanding how students feel about their courses. Data is essential for our decision making, so a poor or minimal data set means that our decisions can be flawed.


What can be done about it?

An initial quick fix could be just to survey less; but the need to hear from our students, staff and other stakeholders is still there, so this isn’t necessarily practical. Some tips include:

  • Think it through: what is the best way to consult, not just the easiest or quickest? Commit to holding accessible and fit-for-purpose consultations.
  • Keep it simple: don’t waste the respondent’s time. Ask only what you need to know and keep your number of questions low.
  • Collaborate: work with groups in your institution to co-create the research if you can, and involve them in encouraging responses.
  • Avoid consultation clash: check that there aren’t other consultations running at the same time. Form an institutional group to approve and monitor consultations, if one doesn’t already exist.
  • Make it worth something: incentivisation can help and doesn’t need to be financial. A voucher, invitation to presentations on your research, or volunteering award credit could hook participants.
  • Little and often: make sure to prompt your audience in lots of different ways, but keep the prompts simple and short.
  • Be flexible: if your selected method isn’t bringing you results, consider adding in another method to have a second route for gathering data.
  • It’s kind to share: often people won’t respond as they don’t think the research will do anything. Share results and actions internally and externally, and meaningfully thank participants to build trust.
  • Do something about it: don’t let the research just be an interesting moment. Create an action plan for anything you need to do, and ensure you know who’s involved, what success will look like, and when you’ll see this.


Halpin is the home of experts in higher education and works across Strategy, Fundraising, Governance, and People and Culture. Our Halpin team has worked in and with higher education institutions extensively and understands the difficulties in consulting with institutional communities. If you would like to learn more about how we can support you, get in touch. Or join the conversation with us on LinkedIn or Twitter.