A Survey, Antagonism, and No Cookies!

by: Hedgehog

August 29, 2013

There has been an abundance of surveys on the blogs recently; possibly it seems more because the same surveys have been linked on several different blogs. Ready access to an audience is one of the benefits of the internet. This story dates back to the early 1990s.

I was a doctoral student, and had just returned from one of my research stints in Tokyo. I would only be in London a few months before going back out. No point giving me a proper calling. However, pretty much my first Sunday back, I was assigned a task that would occupy me for those few months. A survey of a couple of wards [congregations] in Britain was to be conducted; my ward was one of them.

The Bishop was far from enthusiastic about this exercise, but was happy enough to hand it over to me. A Sunday School slot was taken over to explain and hand out forms. The ward members didn’t like being asked to complete a survey that grouped them as households, that asked intrusive questions about the salaries, occupations and such like. This was a singles ward with mixed sex households, and mixed member and non-member households. No-one wanted to ask their non-member house-mates to provide the church with that kind of information, even if they were prepared to supply it for themselves. And all the while I’m wondering, surely they have a lot of this information in church records, all our addresses, our tithes… Are they not permitted to provide the sociologists with stripped down data? Or were records not yet centralised? Still, it took weeks to get the sealed forms back, and finally dump the box of completed surveys with the bishop before returning to Japan.

Before the survey could begin, however, I was to attend a meeting with someone from either BYU or COB (I forget which). There were four of us at this meeting, including: a British guy from the church offices in Solihul; the American, who was, I gathered the sociologist running the survey. At any rate he was deputed to explain to me and to the woman attending for the other selected ward how the survey was to be conducted. In the first place, he wasn’t so excited we were women, appeared somewhat alarmed that my subject area was science & engineering, but seemed satisfied that I and the other woman, a school teacher, were competent.

Several times during the meeting he mentioned cookies. Got to stay, I started to look forward to those refreshments he appeared to be promising us, once we’d finished.

His instructions were brief, and straightforward. Really, a printed page would have been just fine. Why have a meeting? I suppose he needed to be sure we’d know what we were doing. At the close of the meeting, he rubbed his hands together, looked at us expectantly and asked, “So where are the cookies?” There was a long pause. We looked at him strangely. The British guy appeared somewhat embarrassed. The sociologist looked back, “The sisters bring the cookies, right?” The teacher and I looked at each-other in total disbelief. Who was this dinosaur? We gave him a long sideways look that questioned which stone he’d crawled out from under recently. On that bright and cheery note we all departed never to meet again. Was this, I thought, the best they could do: a culturally clueless sociologist with cookie entitlement issues?


  • What do surveys achieve? Does anyone know whether this survey was of any benefit?
  • Who do you think should be responsible for providing refreshments – those organising a meeting, or any women attending? And why?
  • What’s with this cookie business? My husband suggests that in Utah the guys are perhaps supplied with a continuous stream of cookies by hopeful members of the opposite sex. Stop it!



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23 Responses to A Survey, Antagonism, and No Cookies!

  1. Andrew S on August 29, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    I have no idea what the survey from your story could be for…don’t think I have enough information from the post to even guess…but the sorts of issues that they ran into were pretty interesting.

    The whole refreshments thing is baffling to me, but I can kinda see how some people might think about that. I would default to saying that whoever is organizing a meeting should coordinate who will provide refreshments (whether they delegate it or not)…this expectation that any women merely in attendance should provide refreshments is surreal…but it seems from the post that the American sociologist had other issues with women, haha.

    As a baker, I will say: COOKIES ARE SERIOUS BUSINESS.

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  2. brandt on August 29, 2013 at 10:40 AM

    Uncomfortable question….

    with the influx of interest in Mormons from a sociological aspect, and with the ease of creating your own survey (using the many different platforms that are out there), are we going to get to a point of survey fatigue? Especially those of us online?

    I mean, it’s one thing for legitimate surveys through accredited universities and rigorous testing/examination of questions to ensure a “well done” survey, things like that. It’s another thing for Joe Schmoe with a SurveyMonkey Account who wants to prove a point…

    or am I off here?

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  3. Nancy Ross on August 29, 2013 at 10:51 AM

    I have taken several surveys for the church, which does not publish survey results. I have also conducted two surveys this summer and am about to submit those two papers, together with Jessica Finnigan, to academic journals. I’ve blogged and podcasted about the survey and there will be more public info shortly. I think its frustrating to be studied and then never hear about the results.

    We can learn a lot from surveys, the church can learn a lot from surveys, so I say bring ’em on.

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  4. hawkgrrrl on August 29, 2013 at 10:55 AM

    I took this story to mean that the church is doing a survey, and they sent this fool to do it, an idiot who can’t treat these women who are probably his intellectual superiors even as equals. What hope does the church have for gathering good, actionable information that is accurate and insightful when this is who is chosen to represent us? Do the people who chose him really not know that he is incapable of talking to women? Then of course, that thought triggered the difficulty of missionary work in the internet age when our teaching materials gloss over information that is a mouse click away for investigators. At least the missionaries are mostly nice if clueless.

    Did Mormon culture create this guy and then not realize what a huge problem he will be, sending him out to represent our interests? That depresses me.

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  5. Jessica F. on August 29, 2013 at 10:59 AM

    The cookie thing – yuck.

    As one the principle investigators on two academic surveys this summer. One on feminism and one on the internet. I think our surveys have shown a lot. I find the ability to do social science research in the church almost impossible. For the same reasons you stated, no one wants to give that info or the access or the lists. They do have centralized stats that they refuse to share. Even deans at BYU have hard times getting that info. It is so frustrating. I am not sure what survey you are referring to. But the number of mormon surveys that make it into academic journals seems to be next to zero. There is a huge gap in our deeper understanding of Mormon culture. And for example the feminism survey blows assumptions out of the water.

    I think good academic surveys are invaluable until the church lets researchers have access to their data and freedom to find the answers that don’t just offer confirmation bias. And like you said the internet allows access without having to jump through all the hoops of the COB and BYU. I did have to go through my university’s ethics dept, and pass it off with my advisor.

    I mean how do we measure success of a survey? an academic paper is my personal answer. But how does one measure success in social sciences in general?

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  6. Jessica F. on August 29, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    If we are talking about internal church surveys. Well the ones I have seen are idiotic. They do not even know. I wish they would do good internal surveys that could be analyzed objectively and academically.

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  7. hawkgrrrl on August 29, 2013 at 11:18 AM

    I suspect the best approach would be to have a non-LDS professional surveying group conduct surveys (to hire them to do the surveys). There are many very reputable companies out there. They would be able to craft a survey based on what the church wants to do with the data.

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  8. Andrew S on August 29, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    re 2


    Hopefully, people only get burned out on the terrible, non-academic surveys, so that the creators of those ones get the message and stop creating them (or improve their methodologies, etc.,)

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  9. Jessica F. on August 29, 2013 at 11:37 AM

    Hawkgirl- I wish that would happen. I think the church likes to keep deniability. They really like PEW.

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  10. brandt on August 29, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    @Andrew S

    Exactly. I do want to see well-thought-out academic surveys, especially in the context of what Jessica F. said – mostly, if the church won’t publish anything, why not have others do it for them? But these fly-by-night surveys bother me.

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  11. Sandy Liscom Emmons on August 29, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    From what I gathered about the survey, they were interested in family dynamics within the church. Hopefully they placed this survey in family wards as well. I find it odd that they had a singles ward do the survey. Perhaps it was for the broad spectrum of all types of LDS households. I agree with the other comments, not enough information about the survey to base an opinion on. The cookie thing reminds me of something my brother-in-law might spout. Very sexist and obviously clueless.

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  12. Hedgehog on August 29, 2013 at 12:15 PM

    Andrew #1, Yes. I think we can overdo refreshments sometimes. I hadn’t been expecting any at this meeting though, until the sociologist mentioned cookies. And the blatant sexism aside, cookies are not British anyway, they’re American. I think I’ve only made cookies twice in my life now, and at that point I don’t think I’d ever eaten any, never mind made them. They are readily available in bags of 5 in our local supermarkets now though, and seem pretty popular. But I think we still don’t bake them at home on the whole. Fairy cakes are our thing. A bit like American muffins but a lot smaller.

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  13. Hedgehog on August 29, 2013 at 12:22 PM

    Brandt #2&10, Andrew #8
    I know what you mean about bad surveys.

    One of the things my kids have to do as part of the ICT lessons at school is construct surveys (I really don’t know why!), and they all get burned out by the constant stream of requests that all the students email each other, in order to get enough results back.

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  14. Ziff on August 29, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    “We can learn a lot from surveys, the church can learn a lot from surveys, so I say bring ‘em on.”

    Amen, Nancy. I’d like to be a participant in every survey done by the Church or done by people studying Church members. I want my voice to be heard! :)

    Also, I agree with all of you who are frustrated that the Church doesn’t make it easier to survey members and doesn’t release any of its own results. Wouldn’t it be great if we could look at some of that data?

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  15. Hedgehog on August 29, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    Nancy #3, Jessica #5&6
    I think I completed your surveys, the latter one certainly, and the feminist one I think, though I’m not 100% sure about that. And I thought the fMh podcast was very interesting, so I’m looking forward to seeing more of the results.
    One thing I wonder is how often the results of sociological surveys lead to action, or is the aim to provide a clearer picture, and application less direct? I suppose surveys can be conducted for widely differing purposes.

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  16. Hedgehog on August 29, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    Hawkgrrrl #4 “the church is doing a survey, and they sent this fool to do it”
    Yup. Good thing he wasn’t present in the wards when the forms went out!
    “Did Mormon culture create this guy and then not realize what a huge problem he will be, sending him out to represent our interests?”
    I know. I cringe at the thought even now.

    Hawkgrrrl #7, Jessica #9
    I think it could improve presentation, and the quality of the questions. I’m not sure it would necessarily mean people were happier to provide answers though. That would depend very much on what the questions were.

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  17. Hedgehog on August 29, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    Sandy #11
    The other ward selected was a family ward. I think you are correct in supposing the survey to have been designed with a family ward in mind. I got the impression that since there was only the one singles ward in Britain they had felt it would be interesting to survey us too, as a kind of add-on. But it made getting the households to complete them very difficult, because privacy went out of the window between house-mates. I don’t think anyone felt happy about sharing their salary information. Of course surveys were sealed by the time they came back to me, so I’ve no idea how thoroughly they were completed, or not.

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  18. Andrew S on August 29, 2013 at 1:08 PM

    re 12


    My America-centrism exposes itself — even though I KNEW that many of the cookies I enjoy the most originated in the states, that doesn’t really sink in on an emotional/feeling level…it just *feels* surreal that cookies are America-only, since I thought that in the UK, biscuit was a pretty good analogy…and even though this is simplistic, I failed to account that even if that was a good one-to-one analogy, the culture of cookies in America is very different…

    And that’s before we get to Utah specifically (which I can’t speak to, having only been in Utah for like…a week…on a trip).

    re 13

    Every year I was in school, I’d be invited to SEVERAL Facebook groups about filling out surveys for a class. I can definitely say there’s a science and an art, and it’s not necessarily common sense….

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  19. Hedgehog on August 29, 2013 at 1:09 PM

    Ziff #14 ” I’d like to be a participant in every survey done by the Church or done by people studying Church members. I want my voice to be heard!”

    This survey was purely demographic so far as I can remember, occupations, salaries, qualifications, membership of professional institutions etc. I don’t recall it asking how we felt about anything, so I’m not sure that it gave anyone a voice as such.

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  20. Hedgehog on August 29, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    #18 ah Andrew, ” I thought that in the UK, biscuit was a pretty good analogy” biscuits are crisp and crunchy, whilst cookies are soft and chewy (leastways the ones in the supermarket are). You don’t ever want a biscuit to be soft unless you’ve just dunked the edge of it in your hot drink!

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  21. Martin on August 29, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    Our ward did a survey at the church’s request about six months back. They just sent out all the materials and asked the bishop to make sure it happened within a month. They wanted it done at church (not taken home) and wanted all adults present to take it, members or not (it asked whether you were a member)..

    It took about 20 minutes and asked primarily about things pertaining to religiosity and access to and usage of technology. There was a separate, individualized survey in addition to the general one for each member of the ward council which asked things like whether ward council meetings were effective, whether they felt the bishop listened to them or changed course based on their input, how much time they spent per week on their callings, etc.

    I was asked to interact with research people (church employees, presumably) and they were very nice, both the man and the woman.

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  22. Hedgehog on August 29, 2013 at 1:39 PM

    #21 Martin,
    That sounds like a much more useful survey, and one I’d love to get to answer.
    I’m glad your experience of the research people was so much better (and that they included a woman).

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  23. Stephen Marsh on August 29, 2013 at 4:36 PM

    Err, where I am at we kind of provide our own food?

    What an idiot.

    Though surveys do obtain useful information it is always tempting to over run the bounds.

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