How to Develop Surveys That Build Consensus

Be sure you ask the right questions, the right way.

Statistically valid surveys are a proven way to build consensus for your planned recreation facility. They accurately measure the opinions of residents while not overweighing the influence of special-interest groups. A statistically valid survey of 400 households can provide a 95 percent level of confidence with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. In association with architects and economists, it can help build the consensus your community needs to plan and develop a well-designed recreation center that will be approved by voters. Here are seven steps to creating a successful survey:

Involve key decision makers and stakeholders in the survey process from the beginning. Getting mayors, city managers, representatives of youth organizations and other individuals involved early on will develop buy-in and trust. Civic leaders often will be skeptical about projects of this magnitude, but your openness will reduce those concerns.

Hold focus groups and public forums prior to conducting your survey. Working with various special-interest groups can be difficult. That's why it's necessary to hold gatherings in which the information distributed serves as the basis for survey questions that can help build consensus later in the process.

Survey the entire community. Surveys that only reach special-interest groups or current participants in your programs generate distrust in the results. Surveying the entire community provides a more accurate snapshot of its needs and priorities.

Ask the right questions. This is the single most important step. For example, some members of the public may think gymnasiums should be the focus of your facility, while others want the focus to be on fitness or aquatics. By asking questions that address these disparities - such as "Which of the following activity spaces would you and members of your household use?" - you can better understand the needs of community members, thereby assisting architects in planning a facility with the proper program spaces.

Ask specific questions that determine whether a market is larger than it appears. While there may be similar existing facilities in the area, the real issue is whether those facilities are adequately serving the entire market of residents who desire a particular type of programming space. Asking questions regarding usage of existing facilities is a major step toward building consensus.

Ask specific questions regarding funding and operating costs. Many times, community leaders wonder whether residents will support proposed facilities via user fees and taxes. It is important to ask these questions, point-blank. If they're not going to support such a facility, there's not much point in having a referendum.

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