The most recent SciDev.Net user survey offers valuable insights into how well we are meeting your needs.
In performing arts, feedback from an audience, whether appreciative or critical, is both direct and immediate. But in print and electronic media, the physical gap between writer and reader means that one's efforts are often greeted with silence.
At SciDev.Net, we take care to survey our users for their views, deeply appreciate those who take time respond to us, and pay close attention to the answers we get. We rely on these indirect means to gauge whether or not we are meeting our audiences' needs and expectations.
Our most recent survey, conducted in August this year, was no exception. We received a healthy response with more than 1400 of you taking the time to reply which, according to survey specialists, indicates a high level of enthusiasm for our work, and for which we are very grateful.
We're doing well
I was delighted to find that the overall message is very positive. Almost all respondents described the website as either excellent (45 per cent) or good (49 per cent). More than half (52 per cent) of respondents would "strongly recommend" SciDev.Net to colleagues. As an independent analyst of the data said, "SciDev.Net's website has a great many fans."
The survey also reassures me that we are achieving the right balance of material across our different sections. News is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most popular section, being regularly visited by 68 per cent of users; indeed, 11 per cent of you claim to visit the site daily.
But the opinions and topics sections — which include our regular spotlights — also have their fans. 84 per cent of respondents, for example, said our spotlights provided an "excellent overview" of the topics they cover.
And I am particularly pleased to see that notices are fulfilling their role. More than three-quarters of respondents consult our grants section and more than half of you regularly consult both the events and announcements sections.
What impact we have
But the survey also helped us to find out what you, as users, do with the material that you've read — crucial information that will help us make the most impact in development circles.
Most respondents thought that SciDev.Net's greatest value lies in increasing awareness of science and technology, and improving understanding of these.
The next most valued service of the website was providing background reference material. This serves as a useful reminder that, with almost 7,500 articles in SciDev.Net's (searchable) database, we have built up a valuable store of information about science and development since launching in 2001.
Perhaps more surprisingly, almost two-thirds of academic researchers replying to the survey either "agreed" (50 per cent) or "strongly agreed" (13 per cent) that SciDev.Net had helped them improve their science communication skills. Indeed, more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of all respondents expressed an interest in attending or providing science communication training workshops.
I was particularly pleased with the impact we seem to be having in the policymaking process. Two-thirds of policymakers responding to the survey "strongly agreed" that SciDev.Net increased their awareness of the importance of science and technology in meeting development goals.
How to improve?
Inevitably, some comments were more critical. Even these, however, have provided us with valuable guidance for developing both the website and our other activities.
Some respondents had personal complaints. A few, for example, felt that the typeface we use is too small, while others had difficulty navigating around the site.
Some comments will be easier to address than others. To those who told us about unanswered emails, we apologise and promise to do better in the future. Complaints about broken links are being investigated. And comments that the survey was too long will be seriously considered when we plan our next one.
But other criticisms will be more difficult to address. Asked to reflect on what would most improve the website, the majority of those who responded simply asked for more: more regional coverage, more topics, more languages.
We would love to oblige. Our main obstacle is not a lack of will — or technical capability — but of resources, primarily financial. But here again your views should help. The overall positive response to our survey will hopefully help convince donors that we provide an essential and widely-appreciated service that deserves continued support.