Aside from the general census which takes place every 10 years in the UK, councils are always keen to learn more about their own residents in far greater detail through resident satisfaction surveys. As a result, these take place each year or every few years to gain an insight into the changes of the residents ranging from demographics to their thoughts and opinions about the area. These resident satisfaction surveys or local perception surveys as they are sometimes called are vital for the council to learn about possible issues in the area and what actions they can take to address them.
Type of data collected
The type of data collected in these resident surveys can vary greatly, with some common themes amongst them. Demographics such as gender, age, marital status and ethnicity are all relatively common; however some councils will allocate large sections to understanding respondents views about the councils services. In addition this gives the chance for respondents to make their voice heard, and bring up issues that need to be dealt with, or praise the council for a certain action they have taken. Most questions used in these surveys have a validated way of measuring responses and hence are closed questions, which makes it easier to draw conclusions and spot trends amongst the data. There may often be a free text question whereby the individual can write anything they like as it may not already be addressed in the previous questions.
The methodology used by the council is entirely dependent on the level of responses they are aiming for and any budget constraints which may be in place. As with all methods, each has their own advantages and disadvantages, but when conducting resident surveys, postal questionnaires are commonly used. This allows a greater random sample to be targeted, and the scope for a higher response rate is increased for various reasons. The main ones being that the questionnaire can be designed to look appealing and encourage responses, but more importantly, this method is not intrusive of people’s privacy and so they can complete the survey at times convenient to them. Furthermore, it is possible to keep a log of whether responses have been received, and if initial responses are deemed to be low, further reminders can be sent to encourage more people to participate.
A stumbling block with postal surveys is the time in which it takes to copy the data from paper copies into an electronic database, which is often conducted through manual data entry methods. DCC has been involved in various projects where data needs to be shifted from paper into an electronic format and by using an automated method of extraction; we have eliminated the burden of manual data entry from all the partners we have worked with. At the same time we have guaranteed the accuracy of the data at 99.9% as the data still goes through quality checks which are in place to deal with any anomalies.
Designing the survey
The design of a postal resident survey is crucial to achieving a high response rate. Councils are keen to maximise the amount of information they can gather, however it is easy to forget that it can take time for individuals to respond. If the respondent is flooded with too many questions, at first glance this may discourage them from answering the survey and so before they have even read the content; their intentions are already to dismiss it completely. It can be possible to include a vast amount of questions; however effective use of space on the page is essential in order to still come across appealing and user friendly, which will encourage responses. In addition large font in appropriate places and easy to respond to questions, can ensure the user has no trouble reading and can answer the questions relatively quickly without treating the task as a burden.
Understanding what your residents think
The overall aim of these resident surveys is to simply discover the main findings i.e. how the demographics have changed and what different groups of people say about different areas that the council is responsible for. Most of this analysis is conducted by simply using Excel to develop charts of basic information. Considering the vast amount of data that is collected, some councils are not aware of how much more in depth analysis that can be done further, to better understand smaller audience segments. For example further research can focus into ethnic minority groups in the area, however the time to extract this information and organise from a raw data set can prove to be difficult and waste valuable time.
Beyond creating basic reports and presentations for personnel, it would be in council’s interest to have access to an interactive dashboard at any time so they can utilise it in various departments and develop their own unique analysis with ease. At DCC we have been responsible for creating bespoke dashboards for our clients which are designed to cater for what the client wishes to see, which may not be possible through basic analytic tools such as Excel or SPSS. Using resident surveys as the example, it would be possible to incorporate a Google map plugin whereby it could be possible to see what residents are most concerned about in specific areas of the region. For example if people were most concerned about traffic congestion, then on the map it may be noted that these respondents all live in built up areas where there are frequent drivers. From this point on you could focus solely on this group of people and compare the rest of their answers to identify any trends amongst the data. Should the council then wish to address any issues amongst this group of people, they have evidence from the research to justify their actions.