How to: run a resident survey

Learn how to conduct a baseline survey to understand your residents' online needs.

What you’ll do

In this guide, you’ll find out how to:

  • assess the devices and types of internet access used in different parts of your city
  • evaluate user needs to prioritize content development.
  • understand where your city has strong and weak connections to users of its website

You’ll need

  • a web survey tool such as Typeform, SurveyMonkey, Wufoo, or Google Forms
  • translation resources for all the major languages in your city
  • basic geographic knowledge of neighborhood boundaries in your city
  • budget for printing flyers
  • an outreach plan

The goal

You should aim for a response from at least 1 in 1,000 residents, with geographic, ethnic, and age distributions similar to your city’s census data. This is challenging for most cities; part of the process is identifying gaps in outreach and figuring out how to fill them so that later, higher-stakes rounds of research during the development of the site can include everyone.

Our sample surveys (English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese) were used in a successful resident research effort in Oakland in 2014. We asked residents to tell us their neighborhood, age, and Internet and cell phone use, and then asked them to prioritize common city website needs and tell us about past experiences with the City of Oakland site. You are welcome to copy the questions and/or improve on them.

Pre-Survey Steps

  1. Create your survey in the languages you will offer and test it with staff members who are native speakers.
  2. Identify a date range during which the survey will be open. We recommend a 4-week window, and you should plan ahead 2-3 weeks.
  3. Prepare your outreach. Contact community groups, arrange publicity with city officials, set up posts on the city’s web and social media properties, print paper flyers or cards for areas where they will be effective.
  4. Launch.

Once your survey has been running for a week or so (or after the first 100 responses) begin to assess whether you are in fact reaching everyone you want to reach. Our sample surveys include an open-ended question about neighborhood, which we highly recommend you include. Take a look at the initial responses to this question with someone who is very familiar with the city.

It is likely that your responses won’t be evenly distributed and that they may be weighted in the direction of wealthier residents who have better internet access and better access to city services in the first place. Once you know what neighborhoods (or language communities) you are missing, you can adjust your outreach to focus on the groups who haven’t responded. One important outcome is gaining better connections in these communities for online outreach in the future.

Post-Survey Steps

  1. Identify areas where your responses are under- or over-weighted and write down assumptions about how this may skew the data.
  2. Run the basic numbers from closed-ended questions such as whether citizens are using mobile devices to access the Web.
  3. Analyze open-ended responses to what citizens were doing last time they visited the site. Categorize them against core service categories and see if any categories are missing.
  4. Rank the importance of the different categories - this can serve as guide for development priorities for your redesigned Alpha website.
  5. Look for phrases like “looking for” and “trying to” in your open-ended responses. What percentage uses them? These are an interesting qualitative baseline of frustration with your current site.
  6. Report back to the community on your findings.

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