-By Damema Mann, Director of National Engagement -
National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) and Polco are passionate about helping local governments improve quality of life for residents in communities across the United States. And we know considering public input is one of the best ways for leaders to get the information they need to be successful. That’s why, in 2001, NRC developed what is now called The National Community Survey™ (The NCS™) in partnership with International City/County Managers Association (ICMA).
The NCS represents the gold-standard in survey research, effectively measuring community livability. Hundreds of local governments use The NCS to gain a better understanding of resident opinion for decision-making, budgeting, performance measurement and more.
Though these features alone are a lot to love, I’d like to share my top five reasons why I’m so passionate about The National Community Survey.
Let’s face it – the majority of community members don’t get involved in the process of local government. Some communities may be more engaged than others. But average residents don’t often have the time to attend public meetings or to go out of their way to contact city officials. Yet, decisions made by local leaders directly impact their daily life and most residents do want their opinions to be heard. Surveys allow residents to conveniently participate and give feedback. The NCS uses statistically valid, scientific sampling to ensure that results are representative of the entire community.
The NCS has been administered more than a thousand times in hundreds of communities over the last couple of decades, making it the nation’s preferred community survey. NRC has worked with big cities and large counties to small villages and rural towns. Our researchers are expertly skilled and able to perform a wide range of services to ensure that community perspectives are actionable. The NCS results ultimately help local officials govern better by incorporating the voice of the people into decision-making.
We see The NCS as a living tool for local governments. It is not fixed in time. Even now, NRC and Polco innovators are working to refresh the content and methodologies of The NCS, using leading-edge best practices to produce the best possible results. Since it was first rolled out in 2001, we have consistently updated or removed questions that proved outdated, and we’ve added others as needed. We’ve also added web options to make the survey more convenient and widely available. Plus, we always welcome and take to heart feedback and suggestions from clients, like you!
Because it’s standardized and because we’ve conducted The NCS for so many local governments of all sizes across the country, NRC has pioneered the largest citizen survey database of its kind. This allows us to report an average rating – or benchmark – for each item on the survey.
Residents rate their individual communities in areas such as quality of life, delivery of services, public trust, and community characteristics; and The NCS benchmarks show how those ratings stack up to the national average. Is a 60% positive rating higher, lower, or similar to the benchmark? This helps contextualize the data, which is especially useful considering some departments will always be evaluated more highly than others. For example, fire services are consistently rated very highly and tend to maintain strong, positive public perception. So these services are consistently rated much higher than, say, street repairs. This does not mean that the public works department is not performing as well as the fire department. It means that residents have a difference in perspective when it comes to different services. So what does 40% positive really mean? Benchmark comparisons answer that question.
Benchmarking also makes data more actionable. We’ve intentionally designed The NCS to make it difficult for communities to be anything but similar to the benchmark. So, when an aspect of a community ranks higher than the benchmark , this is an area that is truly excelling. Conversely, when something is ranked lower than the benchmark, this illuminates a need for a deeper dive or additional resources.
The fifth reason why I strongly recommend The NCS to any local government is that it – and all NRC surveys – is truly user friendly. We know that local government employees already have a lot on their plates. That’s why we have a team of dedicated project managers who will walk you through the survey process from start to finish. We’re here to ensure that hearing from your community is as low burden as possible.
To learn more about The NCS or to share with us what you use it for, please reach out to us. We love to hear from you.