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Tips to Increasing Resident Engagement with Community Surveys

Community surveys are as old as the opinions they collect. Local governments have long relied on surveys for good reason. They are an excellent way to measure residents’ views on the entire spectrum of issues, from infrastructure and land use, to taxes, and more. Surveys allow local governments to use community input to make budget and policy decisions based on residents’ expressed needs and priorities, and to measure resident satisfaction levels for good performance management. 

Traditional community survey methodologies have become antiquated in a world that is overwhelmingly (and only increasingly) digitally fluent. It’s not just that phone surveys, snail mail, and lengthy, printed questionnaires are a bit old-fashioned. If most of the population no longer lives in a world of snail mail, then you won’t be able to achieve a representative sample of your population with a mail-delivered survey. 

And yet, a digital survey is only as good as its responses; higher response rates mean higher quality results. If you’re looking to reach as many residents as possible, you must create a strategy for distributing and publicizing your survey. Community surveys that include questions written with DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) values in mind, allow everyone to feel a part of the community and inspire more people to participate in the survey. The more respondents, the better the data will be to help you make decisions that reflect the opinions of the whole community. 

We’ve put together 5 best practices for increasing digital survey effectiveness and engagement.

Read on!

1. Be direct

Let residents know why the survey is important, and how the data will be used. A direct approach creates a conversation with your residents and shows that their local government leaders are interested in receiving feedback. This conversation can raise resident engagement levels with the survey, and in general. 

2. Get creative 

From displaying posters at a county fair to including a link directly to the survey within online utility bills, there are many ways to advertise your survey, while retaining the ease of digital access for your residents. 

3. Go digital

Digital community surveys provide more touchpoints for residents to engage and more data for local governments to use for decision making. Digital access reduces barriers to participation, since the majority of Americans own smartphones. Use these digital tools to allow for easy access to the online survey:

  • QR code

Insert a QR code in printed materials, such as promotional flyers you can place in community centers, and partner with local community leaders for distribution. Other ideas include printing stickers or magnets to distribute at local events and  government meetings that are open to the public. Once the QR code is scanned, a clickable link automatically appears and residents can fill out the digital survey directly on their mobile phone. 

  • Shareable link

Add it to any online communication you have, such as e-bills, newsletters, listserv announcements, the signature line of city or county employee emails, and post on social platforms like Facebook and Nextdoor.

  • Kiosks

Place a computer or tablet kiosk in any highly-frequented public area, such as community centers or libraries. This method is particularly effective in minimizing the access barrier for residents who don’t have a computer or smartphone, a reliable internet connection at home, or who are experiencing homelessness and rely on public computers.


4. Get Energized

Framing the survey in a way that excites residents and motivates them is essential—not just to solicit feedback but to successfully communicate that their voice matters and that you are listening.  You can create survey excitement by using language that directly targets certain communities; translate the survey for non-English speakers; ask questions that are inclusive of all and questions that are specific to a neighborhood or group of people. 

5. Be Social 

Before you hit publish on a social media post  or send an email, follow these easy ways to enhance your communication:

  • Eye-catching images go a long way. Add an image that relates to your survey topic to catch the eye of your residents as they scroll through their feed or open their email. 
  • When posting on social, keep the algorithm happy by adding the link to the survey in the first comment instead of within the post itself
  • When sending an email, send it from a real employee’s name and address the resident by name, as well. The more personal effect is shown to increase open rates.

You’re now ready to survey! Cities and counties that use modern, digital community surveys have a reliable channel to ask, listen, and act on what their community says more effectively, transparently and equitably.   

Let Zencity run your next community survey. We do it all, from survey design to reaching a representative sample, and from distribution to producing actionable takeaways. Schedule a demo today.

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