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Building SharePoint Suggestion Boxes and Soliciting Anonymous Feedback

  • December 17, 2008
  • By Nickolas Kortesis
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A suggestion box allows individuals to provide feedback on various topics, and SharePoint lets users submit anonymous suggestions or ideas. This article discusses how to create both anonymous and "signed" suggestion boxes that you can customize to fit your business needs.

SharePoint provides several different ways right out of the box by which you can implement a suggestion box feature without having to write custom code. You can expose the suggestion box in both pages and web parts; however, using the suggestion box in web parts is outside of the scope of this article.

There are three ways to implement suggestion boxes in a SharePoint page: using the discussion board feature, the survey feature, or custom lists. In the rest of this article, you'll see a demonstration of how to use each feature to create a basic anonymous suggestion box. Additionally, at the end of each feature section, you'll see how you can take the underlying feature to the next level.

Building a Suggestion Box using a Discussion Board

Using the discussion board page, users may post topics—both to request answers and promote discussion. Originally, the discussion board page was intended to provide a way for team members to collaborate collectively about business topics. However, for purposes of this article, the discussion board will be used as a suggestion box, to pinpoint one area of discussion and request feedback for it.

The discussion board attributes enable users to discuss their answers about a topic openly, similar to a wiki, but by adjusting a few of the discussion board page's permissions and attributes, you can change the functionality so that posters' names remain private. In the following example, posters will be able to see only their own posts, maintaining a one-way means of communication.

Implementation

To create the discussion board suggestion box:

  1. Go to the Site Actions menu and click the Create button. You'll see the SharePoint layouts screen. The selections you make here determine which type of tool will be created.
  2. Locate the Discussion Board item under the Communications label. Click the discussion board link, which takes you to the discussion board creation page (see Figure 1).
  3. Type a name that clearly and concisely represents the type of suggestion information you want to receive. You may also type in a brief description that further defines the purpose of the suggestion box. This is a great place for the creator to specify how he wants the question answered or state exactly what he is looking for in more detail.
  4. Click the create button. You'll see a Discussion Board page.
  5. Click Discussion Board Settings, which takes you to the SharePoint List settings page for the Discussion Board.
  6. In the General Settings area, click Advanced Settings (see Figure 2). This section lets you manage the Read and Edit access settings for the Discussion Board. Selecting the "All Items" settings makes the Discussion Board public (everyone may see and edit what others post). To make this Discussion Board anonymous, the read and edit access should be set to "Only their own." In this case, make sure that "Only their own" is selected for both Read and Edit access. Click ok to apply your settings.
  7. Finally, to make the posts anonymous, you need to modify the views on the Discussion board page, removing the "Modified by" and "Created by" columns. Even though you previously selected Read and Edit settings to ensure that users may see only their own posts, you need to remove the columns; otherwise, administrators will be able to see who posted each item.

When you complete these final modifications, users will be able to create and post discussions/questions to the page anonymously (see Figure 3), giving them the privacy to communicate without worrying about being identified.

Taking it to the next level

The best time to implement a discussion board as a suggestion box feature is when you need collective collaboration on a topic. You can expand upon this suggestion box so that it maintains the spirit of the discussion board by allowing collaborative, but anonymous discussions of the topic. Compare this to a situation where you need to have a group of people having a conversation on a topic while blindfolding their eyes (or, more practically, a blind focus group). You receive the collaborative feedback using two-way communication while maintaining confidentiality.





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