Best Practices for Local Government Citizen Surveys | Year of the Citizen | ViewPoint

Best Practices for Local Government Citizen Surveys

For the third installment of our Year of the Citizen webinar series, we sat down with National Research Center Founder & CEO Thomas Miller. Having worked in and with local governments for over 35 years, and co-authored two books on the topic, Miller is a citizen survey expert. In this webinar he shares insights into designing and conducting surveys, as well as how to use data to catalyze actionable change in local governments.

Speaker Introduction

Speaker Presentation

What’s wrong with traditional feedback loops?


  • Traditional methods of political input can influence policy in ways that are not representative of the community
  • To make smart decisions, you need representative opinion samples

Asking the right questions and the power of benchmarking


  • Effective surveying starts with a thoughtful investigation into what you want to know
  • It’s important to consider both ‘hot’ topics as well as foundational functions of government
  • The National Citizen Survey serves as a benchmark for cities and towns nationwide

Using citizen survey data to make positive change


  • Start by knowing what you’re going to do with the data you collect
  • Survey data can be put into action using the 6 E’s: Evaluate, earmark, envision, educate, enact, engage

What are the pros and cons of different survey methods?


  • Phone, mail, web, and in-person surveys remain the main survey administration methods
  • Survey research is in a disruptive period because of changes in technology and behavior
  • Mail surveys tend to have the best response rates and control over administration

How do we make sense of citizen survey data?


  • Benchmarking—putting data into a comparative context—is crucial for accurately interpreting data
  • Accurate segmentations help local governments understand differences between various populations
  • Examining trends over time helps put data into historical context as well as analyze the effects of specific events and/or interventions

Communicating citizen survey data to make impactful change


  • Putting survey data in the context of community values helps viewers interpret the data and helps decision-makers prioritize action items
  • There are various ways to analyze how survey data shows citizens’ priorities

Emerging trends in citizen survey research


  • Citizen panels are another way to gain targeted feedback by having in-person discussions with a representative sample of community members
  • Big data and the Internet of Things are emerging opportunities to gain insight into citizens’ needs and opinions, by watching their behavior online and gathering data from digital infrastructure

Audience Q & A

Question: How can you tell if a survey is accurate?

Question: How can you build in an opportunity to provide feedback during the permitting process?

Question: Are there benefits to using social media to survey the public?

Question: What do I do once I have the data in-hand?

Question: How should smaller communities with limited resources approach citizen surveying?


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