Military bases need quality actionable constituent input to improve performance. But most don’t have it. Here’s how the Kentucky installation gathered community data they put to use.
Ensuring high quality of life for all base residents, including active duty personnel, their families, and Department of Defense civilians is a paramount priority. Our people are our most critical weapon system. These are the individuals who safeguard US resources, land, and people.
But base leadership face challenges addressing resident needs. Continual population turnover, as well as staffing and budget constraints make it difficult to make fast and effective decisions. Getting these decisions right not only has direct immediate performance impacts, but also indirect impacts on retention and recruiting
To work in this shifting environment, base leadership requires data about their communities so they can align their actions with what will make the most impact. Though, this type of information is often lacking.
So US Army Garrison-Fort Knox, Kentucky, worked with Polco, a community engagement and civic analytics company renowned for its expertise working with the most advanced and best performing US local governments across the country. Polco happens to also have been founded and led by veterans, who understand the challenges faced by the military and civilian personnel.
In addition, they spent time at some of our country’s best community technology and data analytics companies (Amazon and Google) before leaving these roles to bring their experiences to bear for the US public sector. That experience made Polco the right fit for the project.
“I loved my mission in the public sector, and as a member of the Reserves, still do. We have a lot of threats we need to protect against internationally. But, at the same time, we need to also be prepared to fight internationally from a strong foundation,” said Nick Mastronardi, Polco CEO.
“We need to make sure our ‘houses’ are in order: that our bases and our people are performing well and we are taking care of them and their needs efficiently, effectively, and in a fiscally responsible way. That’s our mission today with Polco in our work with military installations and their surrounding communities.”
Military Bases Do Not Have Enough Useful Data for Decision-making
Most military bases and installations share common resident priorities: housing, access to healthcare, childcare, and overall quality of life, says former Fort Knox Commander Lance O’Bryan. Despite these known needs, most bases do not have clear information on how they can go about improving.
The irony is base residents are subject to constant, federally-mandated surveys.But the results are not often useful.
“In the military, there is survey fatigue,” O’Bryan said. “There is a housing survey, a risk reduction survey—It’s just survey, survey, survey.”
A Needs Assessment by Polco Gave Fort Knox Actionable Insights
Polco’s team of survey and data scientists worked with Garrison Command to build a standardized survey called The Community Needs Assessment.
The assessment is based on The National Community Survey(The NCS), the most-trusted assessment of its kind used by local governments nationwide. Representing over 50 million American residents, The NCS measures quality of life and government services across the nation.
Like The NCS, Fort Knox’s community assessment measures opinions across all areas of livability including parks and recreation, health, safety, and much more.
The needs assessment also allows officials to compare ratings from active duty, retiree, and DOD civilians.
In addition to The Community Needs Assessment, Fort Knox launched a series of short surveys on the Polco platform to get feedback on base amenities. Officials promoted the surveys to residents throughout the base in a variety of ways. They put QR codes in establishments, such as the golf course, bowling alleys, and restaurants, to get quick feedback on these services.
Fort Knox Implemented Quality of Life Improvements Within Weeks of Receiving Feedback
“Getting that feedback was valuable to us,” O’Bryan said. “We were able to actually start executing on making upgrades or making changes that were better based on customer feedback.”
And they did so quicker than ever before.
For example, the needs assessment shows respondents want more outdoor activities. The Directorate of Family Morale Welfare and Recreation (which is similar to a government parks and recreation department) was able to take needs assessment data and build an action plan.
“Within a month of getting the survey results back, they set up recreational kayaking and canoeing on the several lakes on the installation,” O’Bryan said.
Fort Knox also received valuable feedback on housing. O’Bryan said they knew the housing was old, but they didn’t have specific details on how to improve. The survey shows residents want larger kitchens and more storage.
Fort Knox shared that information with their housing management contractor for future improvements.
Similarly, Fort Knox reported important feedback with the health commander. Resident feedback showed wait times for referrals and appointments were too long.
The short surveys brought additional actionable data. The Samuel Adams Brewhouse, for example, is a popular restaurant on base. Through the micro surveys, the base learned that many diners were unhappy with long pay lines. So they quickly added an additional cashier.
“It’s common sense, but you don't know what’s needed until you get feedback on it,” O’Bryan said.
Most critically, the assessment highlighted a significant communication issue. Military members were often unaware of services they wanted but didn’t know were available.
“The boots on the ground survey we did with [Polco] provided us a lot more valuable information,” O’Bryan said. “I briefed [the Polco] survey as a best practice at a conference for garrison commanders. This is the best thing you can do.”
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