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6 Ways Local Governments Can Revamp the Use of Surveys

-By Tom Miller-

Survey Research Revolution Part III

Not every survey question needs to be questioned. But over time, some questions may not have proven themselves useful for your community’s needs. A question’s value mirrors how closely it connects to what you’ll do with the results and why the results matter to improvement. As you review your survey and how you'll use it, think about these six ways to create an instrument that is more streamlined (shorter) and more targeted for action.

1. Identify Your Goals

Before you start, identify goals to focus your survey on the purposes it is supposed to serve. Then look at your questionnaire to detect questions that do not fit. Make relevant deletions or additions. Aim at making your new survey or set of surveys more actionable than what you now have by design or accident.

2. Create a Strategic Framework

Add efficiency and utility by building a plan for data collection, reporting and use across departments. A strategic framework will include consideration of data collection goals and help your jurisdiction prioritize and optimize its efforts for evidence-based decision-making. This framework also can identify secondary data sources and help direct officials to use primary and/or secondary data sources based on availability, importance, resources required for acquisition, timeliness and other factors. The plan should be useful to each department, and when aggregated and tracked, to local government measures of performance quality and policy action.

3. Review the Results

Create a formal system by which survey (and other performance) data are reviewed at all levels of the organization. For departments and the jurisdiction overall, consider periodic workshops led by your survey professionals to discuss results to be tied to action. Make sure that there is a performance management framework through which survey data are brought into the organization.

4. Use Secondary Data

“The future of surveys likely will involve more commingling of the data they produce with information from other sources,” noted Peter Miller, past president of AAPOR. Increase the value of survey results by pairing them with secondary data. You can, for example, connect resident perspectives about safety and police with response times, crime rates and FTE sworn officers per capita. Or you can compare public trust ratings to voting behaviors in local elections or capital expenditures in districts.

5. Conduct Exploratory Surveys

Surveys are important for performance tracking but also help to explain results found in the performance tracking surveys. These “deep dives” could be conducted on years alternating with trend questions used to track performance and can be conducted with traditional methods or a Web panel.

6. Make Connections

To understand results and make them actionable, workshops and deep dives help - but so do conversations with similar jurisdictions across the U.S. “Like” jurisdictions may have encountered the same problems your survey indicates you should solve. Such matches can connect you to jurisdictions of similar size, wealth, ethnic mix and education in your state or, even better, across the U.S. to begin to explore common improvements.

This is part three of five in our series: Survey Research Revolution.

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