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Polco News & Knowledge

Damema Details: Answers to Top Five Questions About Benchmarking Surveys

- By Damema Mann -

We receive plenty of questions from both local governments new to survey research and long-time returning clients.  Today I’m happy to answer the top five most frequently asked questions we get about our suite of benchmarking surveys, like our flagship community assessment tool, The National Citizen SurveyTM (The NCSTM).  There is a lot of overlap in terms of community survey methodology and best practices between The NCS and other standardized surveys including The National Employee SurveyTM (The NESTM), The National Business SurveyTM (The NBSTM), The Community Assessment for Older AdultsTM (CASOATM), and even our custom survey work.


1. How much does the survey cost?

That answer can vary based on the scope of the project.  We have multiple cost models to choose from for our surveys.  The good news is we always have current pricing for our benchmarking tools posted on our website.  Even if you are planning for the next calendar year and you are wondering how the costs might change, give us a call or send us an email.  We are happy to provide a quote, talk you through the different options that are available, and let you know if you qualify for a discount.

2. What is the best timing for conducting a survey?

The best time of year to survey can depend on your unique community.  For instance, if you are a university city, or a community with a lot of snowbird residents, you will want to take those residents into consideration.  Timing may come down to who you are wanting to capture responses from.

Ultimately, your jurisdiction should plan for a time when you know you will need the results and what you’ll do with the data.  If you’re planning to use the results for budgeting or strategic planning, and you need the data by a specific date, give us a call.  We can work out a timeline for you.

For resident surveys, the most common frequency for cities and towns to conduct the  survey is every other year.  We also work with several municipalities that are able to survey annually.  Those are usually larger communities with more staff and resources devoted to incorporating the data with all of their planning processes each year.  For those jurisdictions with smaller budgets and less resources, every two years is still a great amount for a comprehensive assessment.

3. What is NRC’s community survey methodology?

Twenty years ago, phone surveys were the gold standard. That is no longer the case. Response rates for phone surveys have plummeted over the years, and they are very expensive.  Phone surveys also elicit messier data than surveys that are self-administered online or by mail.  For these reasons, National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) recommends mail and web surveys.  And most of our surveys are conducted by those modes.  We’re happy to talk to you about pros and cons of different methodologies, why we recommend what we do, and our findings of best practices in survey research.

4. Can benchmarking surveys be customized?

Clients often ask if there is any flexibility with NRC’s standardized, benchmarking surveys.  “Can we  change wordings?  Can we add or remove questions that don’t work for us?”

The answer is yes, to an extent.  The wording and items are intentionally fixed on our standardized questionnaires. This allows us to provide you with a high quality, tried and true resource at a relatively low cost. It also gives you benchmarks (or average ratings) for each item on the survey, to put your results into context.  It also helps establish a trend line, because the wording and question scales are the same year after year.

However, there is room on our benchmarking surveys to remove certain questions that absolutely don’t apply to your community. For instance, we would not make clients in South Florida ask about the quality of snow removal. But that question is very important for our clients in Minnesota. There is also a good portion of The NCS allotted for completely custom questions, included in the basic service.  We will help you word-smith these questions and give examples of what other jurisdictions have asked. We will also help you make sure the questions are neutral and clear, so you get clean and actionable data.

5. Are there add-on options?

Each benchmarking survey has a menu of options you can add to the basic service.  These add-ons are detailed on our website, where you can find pricing and information about each one.  You don’t have to purchase any of these extras if you do not need them, as the basic service already supplies a ton of information.  But these add-on options can be great tools to dig deeper into the data.

For example, some add-ons can drill further into the data by looking at geographic or sociodemographic differences within your city. We can also come out and present the results at a town or stakeholder meeting, or facilitate a strategic planning workshop with city leaders.  We are always happy to chat with you more about these options.


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