Tag Archives: survey

Why collect demographic data?

I’ve now run two large online surveys of Quakers – one about threshing and one about afterwords – and on both occasions, questions about age, gender, and education raised protests. Since this information isn’t directly related to the topic of the survey, I can understand some objections about its irrelevance, but it is important in some ways and I’d like to take a little while to explore these questions, why I ask them, and what I do with the information.

Firstly, I’d like to dispel a possible misconception. I do not use this information to judge the answers to other questions. In fact, before I analyse the data I usually detach different parts of it: when I read a detailed answer about afterwords in a particular meeting, I am not at the same time looking to see how old this respondent is or whether they have a degree. Perhaps knowing this would help the Friend who refused to tell me about their educational background because “whether academic or not you can make a spiritual decision”. I completely agree. In fact, I’d really like my data to include more responses from people with less formal education – I realise that by choosing to take written responses I’ve excluded some people who struggle with reading and writing, but even at a quick glance my respondents are much more educated than the population as a whole.

This brings me to one of the things I do do with this information: compare it with the UK population as a whole. According to our census data, even in the best educated sector of the population (as of 2011, this was women aged 25-34), only around 42.6% of people had a university degree or higher qualification. Roughly 85% of the people who answered my survey had a university degree, or equivalent or higher qualification. They aren’t in that age band, either – 40% of my respondents are aged between 61 and 70 – although 68% of them gave their gender as ‘f’, ‘female’ or ‘woman’.

You might have noticed if you did the survey that I chose to take all this information in free-text boxes, where respondents could write anything they liked, rather than restricting people to clicking a button marked ‘m’ or one marked ‘f’. Setting out the question in this way enables people to give other answers – such as ‘cis male’, ‘gender fluid’ or other, more individual responses (one respondent simply gave a personal name, perhaps to say ‘my gender is completely specific to me’). Allowing this freedom of response is an important point of principle. I did regret sticking to this principle in the case of the question about membership, though – I’d intended to people to answer the question “Are you a member or an attender of a meeting in Britain Yearly Meeting?” with something like ‘member’ or ‘attender’ or perhaps ‘member of another yearly meeting’, but a number of people answered it with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, which didn’t provide enough information for me to do anything useful with it.

This, more specifically Quaker, information leads to the other thing I do with these answers: compare with other Quaker sources to see whether I have a sample which is representative of the whole. For example, I can compare my information about gender – about 68% women – with the tabular statement for Britain Yearly Meeting for 2015, where 62% of members and attenders across England, Wales and Scotland are women, and see that I’m only a little bit out. On the other hand, I can also look at my information about membership, where of those who gave clear answers and indicated that they were within Britain Yearly Meeting, 88% are in membership, and see that they’re significantly over-represented: in the tabular statement, only about 63% of the adults reported are in membership (the other 37% being attenders).

I can think of ways to explain this. For example, people who have been involved with Quakers for longer are more likely to be in membership, more likely to be on the email lists and Facebook pages where the survey link was shared, and more likely to feel confident reporting on their experience of afterwords. However, if I hadn’t collected this information, I wouldn’t know that there was anything I needed to explain.

There are many kinds of information which I haven’t collected, too. For example, standard equal opportunities monitoring forms in the UK at the moment would also ask about sexuality and ethnicity, both questions I chose to leave out. I didn’t leave them out because I think they don’t matter – my whiteness and queerness make as much difference to my experience of Meeting for Worship as my age and gender, which is to say, they are incredibly important in some ways and irrelevant in others. I did leave them out mainly because there are not as many high-quality sources with which to compare, and because when the numbers are low (for both alternative sexualities and minority ethnicities, we are looking at around 10% in many locations in the UK, although this various considerably depending on several factors) it would be easier to have a small change look important when it was actually just chance.

By collecting four data points – age, gender, education, and membership status – I hope to have some points of comparison and get a feel for how my sample is similar or different to other Quaker and national surveys, without asking people to fill in more questions than is reasonable.

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Afterwords: Diving into the data

I’m now at Woodbrooke, set up in a study bedroom with a laptop and a mountain of data. The survey is now over (sorry, I know some people missed answering it – too late; you’ll see in this post that I’ve enough to be going on with!). I had a splendid response to my request for information about ‘afterwords’. I got 95 responses to the first part and 183 responses to the second part (mainly because some people did the second part twice).

Thank you all very much – every survey response is valuable to this kind of work.

Taken all together, I now have at least some information about approximately 334 Quaker meetings. Most of them are in Britain Yearly Meeting, but I also had responses covering at least eighteen other yearly meetings around the world. There are a few I couldn’t track down or for which I can’t identify a yearly meeting or other affiliation- if you happen to know about the meetings in East Harbor, Hong Kong, Kumasi, or San Louis Obispo, please get in touch.

There’s a lot of sorting answers to be done before I can begin to give detailed results. However, here are some early answers.

Around half the meetings are reported to have ‘afterwords’ or something like it. The form of this varies a lot, but it’s a recognisable pattern while being nowhere near universal. Some reports are from people who visited a meeting a while ago, so if afterwords is getting more common this might be an underestimate. However, people are probably more likely to fill in a survey about afterwords if their meeting has afterwords, so this might be an overestimate. Hopefully these factors balance each other out a bit!

Afterwords varies a lot. I knew this, but I didn’t know quite how much. Afterwords, or something like it, might appear in programmed or unprogrammed worship – or as a semi-programmed element at the end of either. In unprogrammed worship (which includes the vast majority of my responses), it can take place before the handshake (i.e. before the end of worship), after the handshake and before notices, or after notices and refreshments. It can last anywhere from a minute to an hour, although a first glance through the answers suggests that it averages between 5 and 15 minutes.

The aims of having afterwords vary. I sort of knew this, too, but the responses are making it clear that I’m going to have to think about it much more carefully. Possible purposes of afterwords I’ve thought of or heard about so far include: smoothing the transition from ‘Meeting for Worship’ to ‘not Meeting for Worship’, encouraging timid people in the meeting to speak up and perhaps move towards giving vocal ministry, allowing outspoken Friends a space in which to share their thoughts without forcing them into vocal ministry, helping people in the meeting to get to know one another better, and reinforcing the distinction between ordinary speech and vocal ministry by clarifying what is in the nearly-but-not-quite space.

Hopefully when I’ve coded the survey responses in more detail and done some follow-up work, I’ll be able to tell you whether the variation matters, which purposes are most important, and whether it actually works to achieve any of them.

Afterwords – an update

The response to my survey about ‘afterwords’ has already been incredible. The survey is still open (part 1 asks about all the Quaker meetings you have attended including ones which don’t use afterwords, and part 2 asks for details about a meeting who use afterword or something similar), and will stay open until I go to Woodbrooke in mid-July. I will then be analysing the results and exploring some examples in detail – many thanks to everyone who has offered their telephone number for this purpose!

At the moment, I’ve got at least some indication about the use or non-use of afterwords in more than 200 meetings worldwide. Some, of course, have more than one report, and these sometimes conflict – usually I think this is because people were there at different times and the practice has changed. Some people might have misremembered, though! A few interesting things have already emerged.

One is that some people are very puzzled about ‘afterwords’ or have very strong feelings for or against. Although this is skewed at the moment because people who seek me out to give their opinions are more likely to have strong feelings, I do get a clear picture that for some people this is a make-or-break issue, one which they would leave a meeting, or even Quakers entirely, over. Is afterwords like Marmite – love it or hate it? I’ll be actively looking for people who could go either way or feel neutral about it to see whether this is true, or just a first impression. If that describes you, I’d be very glad to have your survey response.

Some different names have been suggested. I already had ‘afterwords’, ‘afterthoughts’, ‘bridging time’ and ‘not quite ministry’, but it can also be called ‘reflections’, ‘the bridge’, ‘sharing time’, ‘joys and concerns’, or not given a name at all. A number of people report meetings where it’s simply introduced with a stock phrase and not named as such at all. This diversity in naming may reflect a diversity in practice – that’s something I’m hoping to check as I dig deeper into my results – and also makes it more difficult to talk about the practice. That could also be one reason why it isn’t much discussed in Quaker publications. Again, if your meeting uses a different name, please do add this to my survey responses!

Finally, although people are often not sure when ‘afterwords’ or something similar began in a meeting, most of the confident reports I have suggest it appeared in Britain Yearly Meeting in the 1990s or early 2000s. Reports from before that, from the mid-1980s, are all clustered in the USA at the moment, although I’ve also seen a suggestion that it was brought from South Africa. If you remember it being used in the UK before 1990, your survey response would be even more valuable!

Afterwords – survey open

Do you go to a Quaker Meeting? If you do, whether or not your meeting uses ‘afterwords’ or anything similar, I’d like to hear from you in my research survey. This is to provide material for the project described in my previous post about ‘afterwords’.

There are actually two surveys. The first one just asks a few questions about all the Quaker Meetings you’ve ever attended, and should be very quick to complete. The second one asks for more details about a specific Quaker Meeting and might take a bit longer – perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, depending how much you write. If you want to, you can fill it in more than once to describe different meetings you’ve attended.