"The first and last measure of good government is citizen satisfaction." That sentence is a key statement regarding the National Citizen Survey. In December 2012, the City of Paducah contracted to utilize the National Citizen Survey to gather feedback from citizens about city services, civic participation, public trust, and various community topics. The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) developed the survey.
The survey data helped elected officials and directors prioritize services and guide future decision-making reflective of the desires of the community. The results also served as a management tool to improve operational level systems and performance. The results provided City leaders a wealth of benchmarking data that allows Paducah to be compared with communities across the nation. By using a standardized survey tool, the entire process can be conducted effectively within tight financial constraints.
Between December 2012 and February 2013, the NRC and the City of Paducah worked to finalize the survey instrument, and the NRC compiled the sampling list of 1200 randomly selected Paducah households. In late February, the selected households received a pre-notification postcard letting them know a survey will be mailed to them a few days later.
The multiple-choice survey asked questions including how often do you visit the city’s website, how safe do you feel in your neighborhood, and how often do you recycle. Plus, there were questions asking citizens to rate various city services. Individual answers were anonymous, but the compiled statistical survey results were shared with the public. The survey takes approximately 15 minutes to complete.
The National Citizen Survey was developed to provide local jurisdictions an accurate, affordable, and easy way to assess and interpret resident opinions about various community issues. The survey is a standard instrument that allows jurisdictions the ability for slight customization including three custom questions. The survey process uses mail-out/mail-back methodology which typically gets a higher response rate than phone surveys for the same dollars spent.
The 1200 households for the survey were selected at random with an over-sampling of multi-family housing units to improve the response from hard-to-reach, lower income, or younger apartment dwellers. The sample was selected from a comprehensive list of all housing units within Paducah. The basis of the list was a United States Postal Service listing of housing units within the Paducah city limits within the 42001 and 42003 zip codes. To insure an unbiased sample, the cover letter with the survey instruments asks that the respondent be the adult (18 years or older) in the household who most recently had a birthday, irrespective of year of birth.
Contacting potential respondents three times helps encourage people to respond. Each household will get a pre-notification postcard in addition to two separate mailings of the survey instrument and a postage-paid return envelope. All of the information is sent to the National Research Center to compile and calculate.
The survey cost from the City of Paducah to the National Research Center is $12,300 which includes the survey sampling, the creation of the survey, mailing of the pre-notification postcard, two mailings of the survey instrument, statistical analysis, and report creation. The Next Steps Workshop is an additional fee.
On Wednesday, June 12, 2013, the Mayor and Commissioners along with City directors participated in a six hour workshop led by the National Research Center (NRC). The workshop called the Next Steps Workshop: Using Resident Perspectives to Guide Government Action was facilitated by NRC Vice President Michelle Miller Kobayashi. The workshop reviewed and analyzed the results of Paducah’s National Citizen Survey.
Kobayashi says, “I want to applaud you for contracting to use the National Citizen Survey. There are a lot of governments that are afraid to step out and measure.” City Manager Jeff Pederson says, “I applaud the City Commission for asking Paducah’s residents what they think about city services and about the city as a whole. Many cities don’t take the time to solicit feedback from their citizens.”
The City of Paducah contracted to utilize the National Citizen Survey to gather feedback from citizens about city services, civic participation, and various community topics. In February and March of this year, the NRC mailed the National Citizen Survey to 1200 randomly selected households in Paducah. The City of Paducah had a statistically valid sample size with the return of 344 surveys.
The multiple-choice survey included 124 standard questions and general demographics questions. Most of the questions had five choices such as Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor, or Don’t Know. As a benchmark, results also are compared to Southern cities that recently completed surveys.
According to the NRC regarding Paducah’s survey, “Most residents experienced a good quality of life in the City of Paducah and believed the City was a good place to live. The overall quality of life in the City of Paducah was rated as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ by 63% of respondents. A majority reported they plan on staying in the City of Paducah for the next five years.”
City residents gave highly positive responses regarding several city services with 87% of the respondents giving the Paducah Fire Department a good or excellent rating; 85% of the respondents rating garbage collection as excellent or good, and 76% of the respondents rating Paducah’s parks system as excellent or good.
The NRC also states that Paducah’s residents are very civically engaged by attending public meetings, helping neighbors, and/or volunteering their time.
The survey also showed that citizens considered the following factors, ranked in order, as the most essential to their quality of life: sense of safety, fire services, healthcare, strong neighborhoods, a friendly community, and jobs.
The factors that received less favorable ratings are street repair, economic development, and code enforcement. Miller says, “Paducah is not unique with those topics receiving lower ratings. Those patterns are what we see across the country.”
After reviewing Paducah’s results, Miller asked the group to list the top items that the City should address this year. After making a list and through a quick round of voting, the group selected two items: the City’s role in economic development and growth coupled with improving the community through neighborhood revitalization; and community engagement.
Regarding community engagement, Miller says, “Communities where residents are more involved typically rate their communities higher.” Pederson says, “What I’m hearing is that we have to advocate for ourselves, the city government. It’s ok to take the time to do it. That’s how we engage the public.”
Pederson adds, “This survey will give Paducah a starting point, a benchmark. Over the next few months, each department will dig into the results and take a look at what can be done to improve our interactions with and services to the public.”