Social media and online survey tools have made it quick and easy for public works departments to collect feedback from both citizens and employees. Over the last few years, I have seen many examples of online polls used to either quickly assess the public’s opinion on a specific service or project or to explore in more detail how citizens view their community and determine their vision for its future. Here are a couple:
- A City of Woodland, Wash., survey asked residents if fluoride should continue to be added to drinking water. It also asked if they would vote for a tax increase to pay for irrigation and maintenance of city parks and transportation improvements.
- When it was hard to explain a design in words, Clark County, Wash., deployed a visual preference survey, in which participants rank the images they see, to aid community planning along the Highway 99 corridor.
For more examples, visit Seattle-based Municipal Research and Services Center. Or search via an online search engine (i.e., www.google.com) for terms such as “survey ideas for cities” or “ideas for a city survey.”
Survey tools are also used by companies in the private sector that provide training, information, or products in the public works industry. In those cases, the polls help these companies understand the needs or challenges public works professionals face on the job. Publications like Public Works have also been using surveys for many years to discover and report the state of the industry and our profession.
One of the most common survey tools used by public and private entities is SurveyMonkey, an online platform founded in 1999 that now handles more than 2 million survey responses a day. Anyone can use SurveyMonkey for free by creating an account through their site (by either choosing a username and password or signing up using a Google or Facebook account). The site's free plan allows a user to create surveys with up to 10 questions and 100 responses. If you needed a plan with unlimited questions or more responses, and the ability to use more advanced survey design and export capability, then you can choose from three additional, paid plans.
There are other survey tools available that are similar to SurveyMonkey with basic, free plans and more advanced paid plans. However, if you are looking for a strictly free option, try Google Forms. To set up a survey or poll using Google Forms, make sure you have a Google account, then open Google Drive. If you have the new version of Google Drive, you can just click the “New” button and choose “Google Forms.” (To get the new version of Google Drive, go to your account at Google.com, then click “Drive” from the menu. Once you are in Drive, click the little gear symbol in the upper right corner of the screen and choose “Experience the New Drive.”) Google also offers several options for your survey such as themed pages; a progress bar; and the ability to turn your survey on or off, to directly export all responses to a spreadsheet, and add videos and images to the survey.
Your own website
Another option might be for you to contact the person managing your agency’s website to see if the program used to deliver the site has the ability to create and post polls and collect feedback. You might find that regularly adding a simple survey to your website’s main page using its built-in functionality is the simplest, lowest cost method of assessing public opinion in your community.