- Matthew Zingraff
Berkeley Circle 2022 Survey Results: Concise Summary
In Fall, 2021 Circolo Berkeley leadership committee members decided to create a survey to “gather information about the preferences and interests of present, past, and potential members of Berkeley Circle”. Results would be used to help plan future events and build membership. Committee members agreed that the survey would be anonymous and include both closed and open-ended questions. Over a four-month period Katan, James, Sanguedolce, Mazzei, and Zingraff reviewed and commented upon four successive survey drafts, improved wording, added and deleted questions, and adjusted question order. They twice tested the survey online to ensure that responses would be captured anonymously. The Committee completed its design work in mid-January, 2022. On April 4, the survey was distributed by email to 227 addresses which included many past and present members, a more limited number of persons who had attended a Berkeley Circle event in the past two years but had not joined, elected and appointed officials and others. The survey was also made available on The Berkeley homepage. Too, it was announced on the WhatsApp chat group “Salento Interculturale” and the Facebook group “English Things in Lecce”. Potential respondents were asked either to use the link provided or to go to The Berkeley home page to access the survey. An email reminder was sent on April 21 and a reminder placed on Salento Interculturale that same day. The Committee received its final survey response on May 14. A total of 39 responses were submitted over a seven-week period. Seventeen respondents were English language native speakers and 22 were non-native speakers. This summary presents key survey findings and some considerations for the future.
The survey was comprised of 24 questions divided into three sections. Section A – Attendance – focused on how respondents had learned about the group, how often they attended, and their level of participation. Section B – Communication – focused on what respondents perceived to be our organizational mission, how they described the group in their own words, why they personally participated, their preferences regarding types of events and scheduling, the website, and most and least favorites aspects of the group. There was also the opportunity to offer the Committee suggestions concerning how to make the group more attractive and visible. Section C – General Information – captured data on respondents’ first language, sex, age range, and education.
A brief description of the respondent group, of the quantitative and qualitative findings yielded, and some comments regarding possible next steps follow. Copies of pie-charts produced by Google Forms are also included at the end of this report.
Respondents to the survey were 64% female, 71% aged 60 and above, 45% English language native speakers, and 87% were holders of a university degree or higher.
II. Quantitative Findings
It was important to learn how respondents came to know about the Berkeley for reasons related to growing its membership and insuring its continuation. It is safe to say that “word of mouth” generally serves as the primary source for participation. Four respondents specifically used the phrase “word of mouth” to indicate how they became aware of Berkeley, and an additional thirty-two of the thirty-nine respondents stated that past members, current members, friends, or colleagues made them aware of the group. It is noteworthy that there was not a single case in which a respondent mentioned having heard about the group from The Berkeley Lecce website, other social media, or our announcements despite our efforts to maintain a robust website, and to place event notices in English Things in Lecce, Salento Interculturale, and elsewhere.
Nearly one-half of the respondents (17) reported that they had participated for ten years or more, and 46% reported regular attendance at events unless prevented by work, travel, or holidays. Not surprisingly, answers to the question “what is or should be the Berkeley’s purpose” were varied. It emerged that Berkeley is perceived as a social space in which to meet people, share ideas, and take advantage of opportunities to hear and learn about topics from a variety of interesting speakers. That final point is supported by responses to the question asking for respondents’ preferences regarding presentation topics. Twelve individuals indicated no preferences regarding topics or areas, 8 indicated preference for “variety”, and others reported preferences for the humanities generally (culture, art, history, music, film, et cetera). We are a varied group and our expressed interests reflect our diversity. It is fair to say that our participants will continue to want interesting and enlightening presentations and discussions.
Respondents were very satisfied with the number of gatherings per month. Eighty percent indicated that the Committee should propose “the same number of talks”, and 14% indicated a preference for “more talks”. A majority of all respondents (55.6%) would like to see the Committee propose “other types of activities”. The 80% who proposed “the same number of talks” were evenly split on the “other activities” question. Fourteen expressed a desire for other activities in addition to talks and 14 were satisfied with the current monthly talk format.
Regarding possible “other activities”, 20 respondents offered examples of types of other activities to consider. Nine suggested cultural visits and excursions related to Salento and its environs. Four suggested get-togethers, with the remainder suggesting films, a book club, and group games.
The Committee, of course, is interested in ways to “make participation and continued membership” attractive in order to maintain and grow current membership. This topic is often discussed within the Committee and is one with which we struggle. Only one-half of respondents addressed this question. That only 50% responded in and of itself is an indication of the difficulty we face as we all try to move forward. As one might expect, individuals who did suggest mechanisms to maintain and grow membership provided suggestions about the aspects of The Berkeley most significant to them personally. Taken as a whole, the suggestions are useful and might be categorized as: Logistical (types of activities, when to meet, the need for a permanent meeting space, more publicity); Events (talks with broad appeal, slower and clearer presentations, some regularly scheduled on-line events each year, talks on English traditions); Social Dimensions (social gatherings after presentations, WhatsApp group, readings in English, performance of theater scenes, singing in English with translations, more participation at the talks); and Outreach (more members, attract new and younger members, organize a helpline and community outreach, create more of a community feeling for the Berkeley Circle).
Only 11% of respondents preferred that Berkeley events occur on the same day each month, and 20% indicated a preference that events be held on different days throughout the month. Sixty-nine percent registered no preference. Start times have also been a topic of discussion within the Committee. One of our most important responsibilities is the identification of a suitable venue for the events, and often the availability of the venue itself has dictated our meeting times. The survey asked respondents to select a preferred start time among 18.15, 18.30, 19.00, or later. Twenty-nine percent chose 18.15, 31% chose 18.30, 29% percent chose 19.00, and 5% chose later thus, 60% prefer meeting no later than 18:30). With regard to the location of events, 35% prefer that we continue our meetings in Lecce center, while 38% percent were in favor of venues near the center with adequate parking. Twenty-seven percent report no preference. Taking the latter two response categories together, we learn that nearly two-thirds of the respondents were not wedded to a Lecce center venue.
Although The Berkeley website is not visited often by the respondents (50% never check it and only 14% do so frequently), some respondents noted that the website is valuable because it documents The Berkeley’s structure and history, and it provides useful information that is regularly updated (in particular, the recorded presentations completed during the pandemic and the summaries of all of the past presentations). Respondents also offered suggestions for website improvement. Suggestions included publishing contributions by more members, inviting members to participate in a blog, making sure that photo galleries are updated, and perhaps adding sections for comments and questions. These and other additions could both enliven the site and provide opportunities for members to more fully participate in the everyday life of the Berkeley.
The numerical results of the survey are key in delineating context and framing some aspects of future discussions within the Committee and between the Committee and the membership, but to understand the substance of what respondents offered in their responses to the Committee it is important to examine the qualitative results in somewhat more detail. We do that below in Section III.
III. Qualitative Findings
Qualitative data were collected mostly from six open-ended questions designed to elicit respondents’ personal understandings, opinions, and perceptions of the organization. They focused on 1) respondents’ ideas regarding the Berkeley Circle’s purpose, 2) reasons why they choose to participate in the group, 3) their most and 4) least favorite aspects of the organization, 5) suggestions for the Committee, and, 6) other comments. In reporting these results, responses from native English speakers and non-native English speakers are reported separately because The Berkeley identifies itself as an Anglo-Italian organization.
1. Purpose of the Organization (Question 4)
The most frequent responses by native English speakers referred to the organization as a space to meet people/bring people together or to its role of informing people about/promoting English culture. It is unclear whether by English culture respondents were referring to language or ethnicity, except in two instances (one respondent stated that the goal was “to promote British culture” and another quoted an organizational document regarding promotion of “the cultures of the English-speaking world”). Two respondents specifically described the group’s purpose as bringing together English and Italians/English-speaking Italians. Two mentioned the organization’s role in creating opportunities to speak to or help “the community.” One respondent qualified their reference to community by noting “the English-speaking community”. Another described part of the organization’s goal as being “to gather together expatriots”. A different respondent noted that there are now many more English speakers and that [the region] is more cosmopolitan than [it was] 30 or 40 years ago “so the Circolo should provide more variety”.
The most frequent responses by non-native English speakers characterized the Berkeley Circle as a space to meet people/bring people together, as a place to share ideas/mutual interests/exchange opinions, a venue to learn about various topics, and as a site to “teach”/ “practice”/ “know more about” English language. One mentioned “promoting English culture”, but whether the reference was intended as an ethnic or linguistic one is unclear. Non-native English speakers also mentioned intercultural and international learning and exchange, networking, socializing, meeting new people, and having fun as among the organization’s goals.
2. Reasons for Participation (Question 5)
The motives most frequently mentioned by native English speakers for their participation were that the topics on which speakers presented appealed to them and that they enjoyed “meeting up”/ “keeping up” with people. Several described the talks as interesting, varied, and one commented “I learn something more than I already know…and I get out of the house”. Some noted that their participation allows them to “get to meet people I perhaps haven’t seen for a while”, and “keeping up with acquaintances”, or to “stay close to my roots and chat with other English speaking people”. Two mentioned that they enjoyed meeting new people. One individual said that they liked the Christmas carol service.
The motives most frequently mentioned by non-native English speakers for their participation were practicing/improving/speaking English, and interesting topics. One wrote “I enjoy learning from different fields”. Another suggested that the meetings enabled them “to develop cultural awareness […and…] to be attentive about another point of view”. On a similar note, someone wrote that the group helps them “to broaden my knowledge of international cultures”. Other motives included networking, meeting “people that I really appreciate”, “meeting important guests”, and making friends,
3. Favorite Aspect of the Berkeley Circle (Question 11)
The aspects most frequently mentioned by native English speakers were the choice and variety of talks and the ability to reconnect/get together/meet with people. One-off responses included “monthly gathering”, “short meetings”, “welcoming environment”, “chat in English”, “nonchalance”, and “That it exists as a British Banner”.
The aspects most frequently mentioned by non-native English speakers were use of English, that it brought together people of different backgrounds, the welcoming environment/happiness, and international exchanges of opinion. One-off responses included “il livello di preparazione dei suoi relatori ai vari incontri”, and “the possibility to broaden my culture”.
4. Least Favorite Aspect of the Berkeley Circle (Question 12)
The aspect mentioned most frequently by native English speakers was the participants’ advanced age. One-off comments included “Lack of seriousness behind its nonchalance”, “too many talks on why I came to Lecce”, a quality of predictability, the timing, “long talks”, and the impression that the talks were “A bit preachy overall with predominantly teaching experiences”.
A criticism mentioned by some non-native English speakers was that the talks were boring. One pointed to the participants’ overall advanced age. Another respondent suggested that most speakers “do not realise that there are also people in the audience who can’t follow their talks because they speak too fast. Does the Berkeley want to be only for English speakers? In the past there were many more Italians”.
5. Suggestions for the Committee (Question 16)
Responses by native English speakers emphasized the need to attract younger members, including through the use additional social media (Facebook, in particular), and to do more for English learners. One suggestion was to reach out to local organizations to raise funds for prizes for top young English learners. Another was to hold “English in Piazza Mazzini Day” featuring storytelling, games, and food. One respondent encouraged the Committee to advertise in outlets read by the community, such as Italian language Facebook sites. Another proposed that the organization needed a “clearly defined purpose and focus”.
Responses by non-native English speakers also emphasized the importance of using social media (in particular, the Facebook group Vivere Lecce as well as Instagram), and advertising in Italian-language print and online outlets. Quotidiano, Gazzetta, and Salento in tasca were named in that regard. One respondent suggested inviting a local reporter to cover a Berkeley Circle event. Three individuals noted the importance of attracting new members of different ages and younger members.
6. Other comments (Question 24)
The responses from native English speakers included the suggestion that the organization post its IBAN number online to facilitate membership and renewal. One person stated that they would like to see the organization become more visible and active in the community. A respondent commented that honorary membership should be extended to city officials. Another complemented the Committee for its work on this survey. Four respondents thanked the Committee.
Four non-native English speakers thanked the Committee.
IV. Possible Next Steps
The purpose of this survey was to gather information that the Committee could use to plan future Berkeley events and grow organizational membership while being attentive to the preferences and interests of those it serves. We thank the 39 individuals who took time to complete and submit the survey. We learned much from them about who they are and their level of participation. They suggested a number of ideas and noted several issues that the Committee can address as it moves forward. We can learn even more from our membership if we share these findings with them on our website and in open discussion that will elicit further insights.
It is no secret that growth is a vital ingredient for both sustaining and continuing this organization’s work. It is important to address members’ desires and preferences to the extent possible given other constraints (for example, we currently have no space that we control). Be that as it may, survey results make clear that membership must broaden to encompass new and younger participants. We must understand that the interests and preferences of an expanding membership group can also provide opportunities for the organization itself to grow and develop. Perhaps a dynamic mix of interesting on-site talks with discussion time, cultural excursions throughout the Lecce region, and relaxed social gatherings throughout the year would provide diversity to our monthly event calendar. Although “word of mouth” is likely to remain a primary method by which people learn about our organization, a varied calendar of events shared in more outlets than in the past may alert others in the Lecce community of the opportunities provided by Berkeley Circle participation.
We think that the completion of this survey has come at a good time for us all. As we emerge from a turbulent and uncertain two years that have affected plans and opportunities in many arenas, the Committee can now devote serious effort towards insuring that Circolo Berkeley remains a vital organization that provides a welcoming and interesting setting within which to meet, grow, and enjoy shared experiences far into the future.