Damema Details: Top 5 Reasons I’m Passionate About The National Citizen Survey

 

Damema Mann

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Hi there! Greetings from sunny, beautiful Boulder, Colorado. My name is Damema and I am so glad that you’re joining me today. I am here to talk to you today about The National Citizen SurveyTM, or The NCSTM as we refer to it here at National Research Center, Inc. I have been working here at National Research Center for well over a decade, and I have literally managed hundreds of iterations of the National Citizen Survey for local governments all across the country and I could talk to you for hours about The NCS. I’d be happy to, if you want to send me an email or give me a call, but today I’m going to talk about the top five reasons why I am so passionate about The National Citizen Survey.

#1: The Voice of the Average Resident

The first is that it truly brings the voice of the average resident into decision-making for local governments. Because it is a survey of your residents, and it’s a scientific sample, we employ the best methods and survey methodology to make it a scientific survey, to statistically weight the data and create the best sample possible. It’s giving you the voice of folks – not just the ones who are passionate enough or have enough time to come to a council meeting or pick up the phone and let you know what they think about what you’re doing – it’s your actual everyday resident. Those are the folks you’re serving in your community and it really helps bring their voices into decision-making.

#2: Tried and True Survey Tool

The second is that The NCS is really a tried and true survey tool. We developed it here at NRC in 2001, and we are partnered with ICMA (International City/County Management Association)on the initiative. (I told you we liked acronyms!) And since that time, we have conducted The NCS for over 400 communities across the nation. We’ve worked with small villages and towns to very large cities and counties and it’s really the gold standard in survey research.

#3: Adaptable and Evolving

The third is that while it’s tried and true and really is the gold standard in survey research, is it’s adaptable and it evolves over time. We don’t let it stay stagnant. We didn’t just write a survey back in 2001 and say, “Okay this is the way the survey is, and this is the way it’s always going to be.” Here at NRC we take a laboratory approach to survey research. So behind-the-scenes we’re constantly doing R & D [research and development]. We are working on ways to change the questionnaire as needed to be relevant and fresh as the world around us changes and we get feedback from our clients. We also make sure that we’re keeping the methodology fresh. You know, back 20 years ago or so, folks might have thought that phone surveys were the best way to go, and now that’s really not the case anymore. Most of the surveys we do now are a combination of mail and web, and that’s something that’s going to be continuing to evolve over time. We also make sure that we keep our reporting fresh as well and make it easy for folks to understand.

#4: Benchmarking

The fourth is benchmarking, and I could talk to you about benchmarking for a very long time. [The NCS is one of NRC’s premiere national benchmarking surveys.] It’s one of the most unique features about The NCS and I think it’s something that in general makes NRC such a leader in the field.

What I mean by benchmarking is that we’ve created a database here at NRC [where] we’ve pioneered the use of citizen survey data. So we’ve compiled all of the answers from all of the citizen surveys that we’ve done, both The NCS and also all of the custom citizen surveys that we do here at NRC, because we also do a lot of those. In addition to that, we take a look and try and combine all of the other citizen surveys that might be done around the country. And if we can incorporate that data into our database, we do [so] as well. We have a careful vetting process for that.

What [it all] means is we’ve been able to create an average rating for each item on The NCS. So when you get your data back, in addition to getting the ratings, you can see how many rated your fire department as ‘excellent,’ ‘good,’ ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ and you can see how many people rated your street repair as ‘excellent,’ ‘good,’ ‘fair’ or ‘poor’ for instance. Those ratings are important to have and are a great feature of The NCS, but what do they mean? What does it mean that 90% of people rated your fire department as ‘excellent’ or ‘good,’ but 55% rated your street repairs as ‘excellent?’ Does that mean your public works department is doing a better job than your fire department? Does that you mean you need a new public works department and the fire department should all get raises? No, not necessarily at all! There are always going to be some services that will be more highly thought of by the public than others, and that’s a fairly typical example, that fire services are going to be higher rated that something like street repair. But giving you that [comparison] data helps you make that data actionable as well.

So we’ve created the average ratings and we tell you whether your ratings from your residents are similar to [the average], higher than it or lower than it. We’ve also intentionally made it really difficult to be higher or lower than the benchmark. So we expect to see most ratings from your residents to be similar to the benchmark. Areas where you’re higher than the benchmark, should be areas where you’re truly excelling. And areas where you’re lower than the benchmark, are potential areas for improvement depending on strategic goals, plans and how you want to focus your resources as a community.

In addition to that large national benchmarking database of over 600 communities, we can also kind of slice-and-dice it for you a little bit more finely. That’s another great feature of The NCS: all of the add-on features we have – and I will talk about those in another episode. The custom benchmarks allow you to be compared to even a smaller subset of [similar] jurisdictions, if you’d like. We can do that in so many different ways! We can make custom benchmarks by region, by population size, we can do it for university communities or resort communities, and so forth.

#5: User Friendly

And then finally, number 5, The NCS is designed to be really user friendly. We make it easy on you to work with us. Because we have done it in so many hundreds of communities for so long, we have streamlined the process and we make it very transparent.

As soon as you enroll, your project manager will get in touch with you. Our project managers are terrific, they are all experts, they’re proactive, they’re responsive, they’re knowledgeable, they care about the work they’re doing for you and they want to make sure you have a great experience. So as soon as you enroll, your project manager will reach out to you with a detailed timeline that shows you what pieces of information we need from you and when, in order to get the survey customized and ready to get out to your residents.

We have a welcome kit that walks you through those steps as well. We have a wealth of information and resources on our website, [and online Playbook of Strategies] and we’re always happy to answer any questions you have. Once the survey is in the field, we take care of everything and make it as low-burden on staff as possible. We know local government employees have a lot on their plates, that you’re job doesn’t get easier and sometimes a fire comes up that you need to put out, so we’re really well-aware of that.

Also, once it’s time to do reporting and analysis and we give you your reports back, we have worked to make those [reports] really easy to understand. It’s a layered approach to reporting for different levels of information that you want to be able to get.

We have a lot of great tools and resources on our website. So check it out, take a look! If you’d like more information, there’s a ton of it on the website – you can see that flashing in the bottom corner here [of this YouTube video]. Stay tuned for next time, until then!

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