How do you use a survey that leaves out nearly 99% of the potential respondents and doesn’t use any open-ended questions? What’s to be learned from a small sample size and limited scope of questions?
There are lessons to be learned from most data. However, I’d mostly view any results of this kind as instructional for long term strategies rather than instructional for specific operational decisions. For example, any significant deviations, positively or negatively, could be applied towards informing future strategic priorities, especially when additional data supports those deviations.
City council recently heard results from a community perceptions survey focused around their Strategic Outcome Areas that received just 726 responses to a closed answer questionnaire. Remember Ft. Collins has approximately 65,500 households & a population north of 160,000.
The fact that our city leadership is sophisticated enough to link our strategic outcomes to an ongoing community survey is very encouraging, as it demonstrates an intentional focus for how they govern. Yet, watching council’s discussion and reading the report itself was less than encouraging.
Sure, the results themselves are great and in almost every strategic outcome area Ft. Collins performs much better than national & regional benchmarks. A trendline that surprised no one.
As mentioned above, a survey of this nature is far less about specific likes and preferences and much more about gleaning insights about emerging short and/or long-term trends of consequence.
Thankfully you don’t need a sociology degree from CSU to recognize two distinct ongoing concerns identified in the report as deviations the city’s performance. Housing (11% down from 17% in 2015 & 31% in 2013) along with time honored traffic and parking complaints by a wide margin received the lowest favorability percentages.
Unfortunately, council seemed more interested in drilling down on pet aspects, or to simply question the validity and usefulness of an obviously limited survey, rather than discussing the 800-pound housing gorilla. The only housing statement made during the work session, as reported in the Coloradoan, was dismissive, “Council member Bob Overbeck likewise argued that the affordable housing response should have asterisks next to it because “the city of Fort Collins is doing everything we can,” and there are greater market forces at work.”
The problem with this sentiment is that every survey over past five years has provided a very clear directive that our current housing system is not working, and its time for our city’s leaders to be accountable not dismissive.
I don’t believe the city has scratched the surface of what it could do. Here are three reasonable ways to do more.
The first, and simplest, thing would be to include more than a single performance question about housing affordability in the next survey. There are additional questions included in the survey on several stable issues and yet not even one on the poorest performing category.
Second, stop burying the lead and change the Strategic Outcome included in the community dashboard from Neighborhood Livability & Social Health, to Housing & Neighborhood Livability. Prioritizing housing in conjunction neighborhoods just make sense and will improve social health.
Finally, as I’ve written previously the city must appropriate more staff and resources to fulfill government’s role in protecting a full housing spectrum. Housing is equal parts infrastructure and culture, and therefore is deserving of much more strategic/policy focus than what it currently receives.