User surveys and research

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William Fawcett
tel: 01223 460475

Have you shuddered at the prospect of filling in yet another questionnaire? Nothing is more boring than a list of questions and tick boxes if they are on a subject of no interest or if they are badly designed.

CAR has developed an approach to opinion gathering that we call Informed Opinion. The idea is that you are likely to get sensible and useful answers if you give people good information and ask relevant questions about something they are interested in.

Typically our surveys are self-administered. If they are addressed to the general public, they work best when there is media promotion of the issues being investigated; holding a public exhibition is a good way of attracting respondents. If the survey is for a particular organisation, it can be hosted on the organisation’s intranet. The Informed Opinion surveys engage people and achieve a high level of response.

We also organise workshops for expert panels and stakeholder meetings. We interview people at the beginning of a survey project to clarify the main issues. We then devise exercises or simulation games to explore these issues in workshops, and design the main questionnaire.

To get maximum value from a survey project, CAR designs the questions in a structured way. Then the results can be analysed to reveal the underlying structure of the respondents’ preferences, not just their superficial opinions. This is far more useful when the survey results are used to guide decision making.

Post-survey feedback is an important part of the survey process. It is respectful of the respondents’ contribution, and helps to build consensus for policy decisions that are based on the survey findings.


  • User Research for Healthcare Buildings A workshop exercise run for CABE as part of the Sustainable Healthcare through the Built Environment conference.
  • Urban Futures A study of neighbourhood renewal in Burnley and Luton for Building Futures, an RIBA/CABE initiative. See Urban Futures Report below.
  • Housing Futures – Informed Public Opinion Public views of development options in the South East for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
  • Pre-Design Study for Clare College, Cambridge A study to define the College’s need for new accommodation.
  • Cambridge Futures 2 Study of attitudes to transport options in the Cambridge Region.
  • Cambridge Futures 1 Study of attitudes to development options in the Cambridge Region.


H. Mulligan and A. Broadway. Incorporating user behaviour preferences in the design of controls: experience of two Retrofit for the Future projects. Retrofit 2012 Conference, University of Salford, 24-26 January, 2012. See 'Incorporating user behaviour preferences' below.

W. Fawcett, I. Ellingham and S. Platt. Reconciling the architectural preferences of architects and the public: the ordered preference model, Environment and Behavior, Vol. 40, No. 5, September, 2008. See 'Reconciling the architectural preferences of architects and the public' below.

W. Fawcett and S. Platt. Pre-design Study for New Building,Cambridge Architectural Research Report for Clare College, Cambridge, 2003.

J. Palmer, S. Platt, et al. Refurb or Replace? Energy Savings Trust, 2003.

S. Platt. Cambridge Futures – Survey Report, Cambridge Architectural Research Report, 1999. See 'Cambridge Features Report 1' below.

S. Platt. What Transport for Cambridge? Cambridge Futures 2, 2004. See 'Cambridge Features Report 2' below.

S. Platt. User Survey – Conservation strategy, Cambridge Architectural Research Report for the University of East Anglia, 2005.

S. Platt and I. Cooper. The Urban Futures Game – Visualizing Neighbourhood Change, Building Futures, CABE, 2005.

S. Platt, W. Fawcett, and R. De Carteret. Housing Futures – informed public opinion, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2004. See 'Housing Futures Report' below.

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