Qualitative (descriptive) data can come from many different sources and is beneficial in many ways. Comments & feedback from attendees, vendors and volunteers, examining foot traffic patterns through the festival grounds, and assessments of festival signage & layout are all great examples of qualitative data. Often, this data is overlooked in lieu of traditional quantitative measures, such as economic spending, marketing effectiveness, and event satisfaction data. Although traditional quantitative measures are extremely useful to festival organizers, qualitative measures prove just as beneficial to their productions. But why bother with collecting qualitative data?
1. Your attendees are diverse and (mostly) intelligent. Listen to them!
Overall, your event attendees are people who come from diverse backgrounds and work skilled jobs in a wide variety of fields. While they may not be experts at planning & executing events, their area of professional expertise can offer relevant viewpoints that can be applied to your decision-making processes. Additionally, your patrons most likely attend other events throughout the year, so they are able to provide unique insight into other successful production ideas they have experienced elsewhere. Capturing comments pertaining to their individual experiences & mindsets can prove to be quite meaningful.
2. Many festival & event attendees differ greatly from the organizational staff.
Known as groupthink in psychology, members of an organizational & planning committee have a tendency to agree with each other and create harmony within the group. They also have a tendency to think alike and may not consider a broader range of viewpoints or options. Typically, event attendees have little bias or in some cases different biases. They come to the festival with a different set of expectations and are able to comment in ways that perhaps you were not considering.
3. Attendees experience the event during operation hours, not year-round like organizers do.
Festival organizers work diligently to execute their events. Unless a person is involved in festival & event productions, it is hard for 'outsiders' to understand the amount work involved. However, as festival organizers work so hard to bring their productions to life, they often have a hard time stepping back and examining the festival as a one-day, weekend, or weeklong event. This is not the case for your attendees; they only see the event during the hours of operation. As such, they are able to examine the event without balancing the thoughts of planning, budgeting, etc. This often brings a fresh and relevant perspective to light.
4. Organizers are not omnipresent during festivals and events.
Yes, perhaps organizers are able to walk around the festival grounds a few times each day, but they cannot be everywhere during every minute of the production. During events, organizers are typically pulled in many directions and have many matters to deal with. Perhaps they might pick up on some narrowing their focus and event experience.
5. Qualitative data provides insight into things that quantitative data can't.
Sometimes numbers just aren't enough. Organizers should value questions asked to attendees probing for evaluation & feedback from their experience. What aspects of the festival programming can be added, altered, improved, or removed? How effective was the festival map or schedule provided to patrons? Were there sufficient vendors or restroom facilities to serve attendees? How well-kept were your on-site facilities? How effectively was event information communicated before and during the production? How was the festival layout & flow experienced by attendees? What aspects of the festival were planned & executed well? This is where qualitative data proves to be most useful. While a quantitative measure of 9 out of 10 might be a great metric, a numeric rating will not identify specific locations or specific times for areas of improvement.
In event survey and evaluation efforts, the focus is often centered on gathering & reporting quantitative numbers and statistics. In contrast, qualitative information digs deeper to convey the positives and negatives of your production experience that should not be overlooked. Each attendee provides a different perspective, and many great ideas can be obtained from them. In either case, when gathering attendee feedback during or after your production, utilizing the services of a third-party research firm provides accurate & reliable data that can prove beneficial for future decision-making and planning efforts.