Not that Penticton residents have ever been particularly reticent about letting City Hall know what they are thinking, but they soon may have a chance to do it in a formal manner.
“We are hoping for an honest assessments from the community and we really want to take whatever results come from it,” said Simone Blais, the city’s communications officer who is leading the survey project, which is expected to cost $10,000. “It is meant to inform our budget process, which maps out our entire year for 2013.”
Nine companies responded to a request for proposals that closed last week with the city seeking a firm to measure public opinion on the delivery of city services and identify priorities.
“We’ve been discussing citizen satisfaction and customer service in the city for quite some time,” said Blais. Though her position was only created earlier this year, she said the concept of a survey has been under discussion since the 2010 Core Services Review.
“There has been a desire for a benchmark, establishing where we are at, so we can get a get a sense of what the perceptions are and how we can build on that, how can we improve, how can we be better,” she said. While several versions of a survey have been drafted over the past couple of years, she continued, none of them have come to fruition.
The last time Penticton attempted a citizen survey was in 2003, when it was conducted in house, by city staff.
“It was actually a really comprehensive survey,” said Blais, explaining that while the results were compiled into a tabular report, the results were never taken to the next stage and analyzed to identify key issues. “It was produced in a tabular report and it stayed in a tabular report. Which is unfortunate; you need that analysis piece to inform where you go with it next.”
For this survey, a committee with departmental representatives was struck earlier this year to discuss and set objectives for the project.
“There was a lot of really healthy discussion about the different options that are out there,” said Blais. “We freely admit that we are not experts in this field. We felt it would be really valuable to have a third party conduct the survey on our behalf that has that experience, that has that knowledge and can provide us what we are looking for.”
The committee identified three factors they felt were necessary to make a citizen survey a valuable exercise, the first of which was neutrality. Bringing in a third-party to conduct the survey, they felt, would help the community see the results as an objective assessment of resident perceptions.
“We want the public to feel confident that the survey was accurate and objective,” said Blais. Quality, she continued, was the committee’s second key factor.
“We wanted it to be accurate and we wanted it to be statistically relevant,” said Blais. “We wanted meaningful data and analysis to come from it. That, ultimately, would offer departments the most value.”
The committee also discussed whether or not a one-off survey would have the value they wanted.
“A lot of your true value comes in comparative data, year over year. So we are considering this as a potential annual exercise, kind of an annual litmus test, if you will,” said Blais.
Questions for the survey have not been finalized yet. Though several versions have been proposed, Blais said the best approach will be to work with the survey company, once chosen.
“It was all well and good for us to develop a draft, but if we bring on a research or polling firm and they say these questions aren’t going to get you the results you are looking for … then we would have to change track anyway,” she explained. “I think first draft stage is a close assessment of where we are at right now. We will probably go through a few more drafts.”
The nine proposals are being evaluated, and Blais hopes the city will be able to award the contract in short order, possibly within the next week.