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Q&A Series with Rachael Schaffner of Fayetteville, AR

This month we hear from Rachael Schaffner, Sustainability Project Coordinator, in Fayetteville, AR. Fayetteville received a 3-STAR Certification in August 2014. In late 2016, the City conducted a survey to gather community perceptions on sustainability.

What was the driving force behind conducting the Community Perceptions Survey?

We conducted our Community Survey for 2 primary reasons. The first was to provide the Fayetteville City Council and other decision makers with an in depth look into resident perceptions of city life. We timed the survey to be available prior to our Council’s strategic planning retreat so that they could take the public’s long term economic, environmental, and social priorities into consideration.

The second objective was to help prepare for our 2018 STAR re-certification process. There are a number of objectives in the STAR Technical Guide that require a community survey or suggest a survey as a substitute for nationally aggregated data that is not available for smaller municipalities like Fayetteville. We were able to combine all of the survey-related outcome and action items into a single survey to streamline the data collection process.

A tertiary motivator and benefit was that we will be making all of the findings available to internal stakeholders, community groups, and the public so that everyone can make use of the wealth of data collected.

How did you identify the questions that were asked in the survey? How did you utilize the City’s 2014 STAR certification in this process?

We built our question set by first identifying each STAR objective that requires or suggests a community survey, including Public Safety, Public Parkland, Neighborhood Cohesion, Civic Engagement, Arts & Culture participation, Aging in the Community, and Volunteerism.

We then completed a survey of peer communities that have recently conducted Community Surveys. We found that many other STAR communities had great examples and question banks that we could draw from. We researched best practice for online and paper surveys, including visual formatting, length, question formats, and how to improve response rates while only having limited funding.

We then held stakeholder meetings with a number of City government departments who gave feedback on their goals for the coming years and offered input on incorporating questions that would help guide their planning processes. Many of these conversations where guided by where Fayetteville did or did not receive credit in our 2014 STAR Communities certification process.

We also added a number of sustainability-related questions derived from the STAR outcomes areas and action items that we believed could benefit from additional data. These questions covered a range of possible initiatives and projects so that we could gauge citizen priorities across all three areas of environmental, social, and economic sustainability.

What was the process used to engage residents and distribute surveys? What partners did you utilize?

Traditional methods used to attain a random sample of residents (phone surveys or door-to-door) were going to be too expensive, so we worked with our GIS department to generate a list of 3000 random address points in the city, restricted to residential dwellings, where we could send post-card mailers with a URL for the online survey form. We oversampled 2 of the census tracts in our town with the lowest household income and highest rates of non-high school graduates, as our research revealed that response rates are typically lower from these populations.

In addition to the mailers, we conducted traditional and social media campaigns to promote participation. A link to the survey was shared and promoted by a number of community partners including our Farmers Market, Police Department, Senior Center, Community Center and more.

We also held a number of public outreach events. We attempted to choose events, times, and locations where we could reach the greatest variety of citizens. We held events at the Public Library, senior center, craft fairs, churches, bingo nights, and City Council meetings.

What was the response rate of the survey? How did you gauge its success?

We had 1402 total responses to the survey, with 1223 responses coming from Fayetteville residents. From our random sample, we only had a 9% response rate, but we were able to use Purposive sampling techniques to build a very large respondent pool that closely resembles the Fayetteville population – in other words, our respondent pool has nearly the same demographic profile (age, educational attainment, household income, ethnic background) as our last census data. Overall, we had responses from over 1.5% of our total city population which we see as a great response rate!

We gauged our success with this survey on a number of factors.

First, we were pleased to gather responses from so many citizens and to be able to have a respondent pool that closely resembles the makeup of our city.

Second, we were able to meet a number of the benchmarks set by the STAR Communities objectives. For example, we asked questions regarding the Built Environment Objective 6 – Public Parkland, Outcome 4: Use and Satisfaction. STAR asks for the community to demonstrate that 66% or more of surveyed residents visit a park at least once a year. From our respondent pool, nearly 98% of residents indicated that they visit a park each year.

Even in the categories where we did not meet the required benchmark, we found that the survey successfully helped us identify where we may need to direct future funds, conduct outreach, create policies, etc.

How would you describe the survey’s findings? Were there any surprises?

Overall, most of the results were in line with what we expected to find. Fayetteville has an engaged, creative, active population and the survey results reflected those characteristics.

While not exactly surprises, two particular findings stood out to us.

First, we expected that in responses to many of the quality of life questions, respondents with higher level of household income would offer more positive responses. While the data bore this out somewhat, we found that educational attainment, not household income, had the greatest impact on quality of life responses. This was true for perceived levels of social empowerment, perceived safety across the city, arts and culture participation, volunteerism, and more. We will absolutely be taking these results into consideration in the coming year as we work to create a Community Equity Profile and re-certify with STAR in 2018.

Percent of respondents who believe they live in a cohesive community

Second, we had a goal when we started this survey to be able to analyze the results through a geographic lens. We wanted to be able to view responses by Ward so that City Council members could see constituents’ perceptions, but we also wanted to be able to break out smaller geographic areas of the city for more granular analysis. Since Fayetteville does not have clearly defined neighborhood boundaries already, we worked with our GIS department to create “subwards” which would organize the data on something akin to a neighborhood level. When we analyzed the results of the survey, we were surprised to find that there was far less variation across the city than we thought there might be. While variations were definitely present, the overarching goals, perceptions, and priorities of citizens were relatively similar no matter what corner of the City they lived in. This was a great take-away for both City staff and elected officials.

How will the survey results be utilized?

These results are forming the basis of Fayetteville’s re-certification process with STAR in 2018. We’re excited to already have gathered data in a number of Goal Areas which can help us organize our reporting and tracking efforts through the next year.

In addition, these results were presented to our City Council in February so that they could be used as a guide for strategic and long range planning. We also met with stakeholders groups throughout the City and Community to present relevant findings. Many city departments have already begun to digest and apply the data including our Parks and Recreation, Engineering, Transportation, and Communications Departments.

One early and exciting application of the survey results has been in Fayetteville’s Community Policing division where officers are using the geographic analysis of public safety data to do targeted outreach to areas of the city were trust in law enforcement was found to be weakest.

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