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How to Convince Council It’s Time for a Citizen Survey

So your council members say they’re in touch with their constituents and don’t need a resident survey to know what’s right for the community. Maybe they hesitate to ask residents questions whose answers they don’t already know. Or perhaps the electeds are simply unfamiliar with the business value of surveys.

For all those city staff members who have asked us how to convince council of the wisdom to conduct a broad resident survey about quality of community life, service delivery, and public trust, here are the top ten reasons elected officials should consider a citizen survey.

Top Ten Reasons to Consider a Citizen Survey

  1. The voice of the typical resident has broader value than (and may be different from) the voice of the gadfly or those with more access to elected officials.
  2. Survey results identify what residents think is most important for the community to do.
  3. Data from surveys provide evidence of what’s working and what needs help.
  4. Resident opinion underpins strategic planning.
  5. Survey data quantify resident opinion so that changes can be tracked over time as the community changes/improves.
  6. Surveys offer entry points to engage residents, businesses, and nonprofits to improve the community.
  7. Results permit tracking the success of policies and programs with metrics from resident opinion.
  8. Residents want councils to base plans on what the entire community cares about.
  9. Independent survey results add credibility to the evaluation of community and services.
  10. With surveys, councils no longer need to rely on advocacy groups’ assertions that those groups speak for the entire community, because the voice of the entire community is represented in quality survey data.

Finally, for those worried that citizen survey results might restrict council options, remember that knowing what residents think is not the same as having to do what they want. For the most part, surveys offer top-of-the-mind resident perspectives without deep deliberations about the relevant costs, complications, and competing priorities that staff and elected officials contemplate. But these are the residents who elected the governing body, and their voices deserve to be heard by both the council and the staff. The citizen survey, properly done, is a present to councilors, staff, and residents. Give them the gift of knowledge. Do the citizen survey.

This post originally appeared in the blog of National Research Center, Inc., October 15, 2015.

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