Introduction: An Unprecedented Funding Opportunity
The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides local governments across the United States with an unprecedented opportunity to improve the lives of their residents. With $45.6 billion of ARPA funding specifically allocated to cities, city managers are now hard at work ensuring those funds make a lasting impact on their communities.
The Challenge: Understanding Broad Community Need in a Scientific Way
Local government leaders in the Town of Normal, IL, prioritize governing with the frequent input of local residents. They wanted to ensure recommendations for ARPA funding allocation were based on the needs of the entire community, and not just a small group of residents who expressed their personal preferences the loudest. With such a large amount of funding on the line, it was especially important to understand resident priorities in a scientific and representative way so they could put their full trust in the results.
The Town also wanted to be fully transparent with residents about how funding could and could not be used. Understanding the specific set of criteria for ARPA fund allocations, Town leaders also wanted to limit unrealistic expectations of how the money could be spent.
The Zencity Solution: A Pulse Survey for a Representative View
The Town used a Zencity Pulse Survey to gain a representative picture of resident priorities for ARPA funds. For three weeks in October 2021, Zencity surveyed a statistically valid sample of 905 adults in Normal with a short, easy-to-use survey designed to reach more voices and lower barriers to participation in local government. The survey used digital, targeted ads across a variety of platforms (e.g., social media and in-app ads), as well as several Town communications channels to reach respondents. Using annual census data, Zencity created quotas for different demographics to ensure the respondent sample mirrored the demographic makeup of Normal, then used rake weighting to adjust the proportions based on the population.
The survey asked residents to rate different ARPA funding opportunities as very high/high priority, medium priority, or low/no priority. Results were then broken down across all respondents, as well as analyzed to illuminate demographic differences.
The digitally distributed survey also provided an educational opportunity for residents around ARPA funding, showing them their voice mattered in the allocation of funds, explaining which types of initiatives could be supported with ARPA money, and illustrating the Town’s desire for a collaborative and transparent process.
The Impact: Recommendations Supported by Representative Input
The survey data reaffirmed ARPA budget recommendations made to council that represented the needs of the entire community. In addition, a few key areas stood out in the survey results. For instance, the Town learned residents prioritized assistance to small businesses. Based on this, the Town decided the most impactful thing they could do was to provide funds to the Illinois Small Business Development Center of McLean County for an additional staff member, whose role would be to better understand what assistance would be most meaningful to small businesses owners.
Demographic analysis also showed access to broadband internet, while not a high priority when looking at the big picture, was a definite pain point among specific demographic groups of residents. With the goal of serving all corners of the community, the Town recommended prioritizing broadband access for residents who didn’t already have it.