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Develop a Community Survey

What is it? Survey instruments can be a great way of gathering a large amount of information from across a community, a neighborhood, or specific sub-population.  Surveys may be used to identify how people view an issue, or perceive their community, such as its strengths and weaknesses.  Questionnaires may also reveal preferred actions or uncover opinions on local concerns. Because a survey does not require a resident to attend a meeting or discussion, the instruments may reach more people and provide a broader view of community opinion.  However, in order to be successful, a questionnaire must be carefully designed and focused on the most relevant questions.  Additionally, there are multiple ways to distribute and collect survey information, such as online forms or in-person interviews.  The methods should match the overall information needs and goals, as the techniques will impact the way questions are asked.  Surveys also have limitations, as they do not provide as much depth or detail.

How has it been used? The Seattle Public Library wanted to know what citizens thought of the library as part of their strategic planning process.  Library officials held public forums and open house events, but wanted to engage even more of the population.  So they conducted a community survey, which was visibly promoted throughout the city to try and increase participation.  Over 32,000 residents completed the survey.  From these respondents, library officials learned how often people visited library locations and the ways that citizens thought the library should be allocating its resources.  For example, community members were asked how they would divide $10 among book resources, audio-visual resources and online resources.  Seattle library leaders were also able to determine the effectiveness of their online presence and how patrons might want to interact at the library.  The information helped the library better focus its services to meet community needs and desires.  (Source: The Seattle Public Library: Community Survey Summary)

Further Reading

Community Surveys: Measuring Citizens’ attitudes towards sustainability – Journal of Extension

Do’s and Don’ts of Community Surveys – Utah State University Extension

The Survey as a Tool for Looking Around – CAMEO Handbook