Community Surveys

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What is a community survey?

A community survey is a data collection method aimed at a particular community with specific questions for that community. Perhaps the largest U.S. community survey is the ACS or American Community Survey run by the federal government on a yearly basis. Survey audiences can encompass a city, county, state, or neighborhood – and on the local government level – community surveys generally survey the community of residents, city or county-wide – that the local government entity serves. Most surveys today are online community surveys. 

Of course, community surveys come in all sorts of sizes and with a variety of questions. The most important aspect is which residents are targeted to answer so that local governments can hear not only from the largest number of people possible, but also from a representative resident sample to receive broad-reaching feedback and to drive decision-making that serves the community at large .  

Learn more about how you can run a scientific and representative survey with Zencity

What are the benefits of community surveys?

It is imperative that community leaders understand what the residents they serve want and need. Surveys can help local governments understand where residents stand on important issues, how satisfied they are with city services, how effective the government is in meeting resident priorities, and what those priorities are in the first place. Ideally, survey results should be actionable so that they can also impact decision making.

There are professional survey providers, but local governments have also used free community surveys to gain resident feedback on a specific issue or on particular subjects.  Community engagement surveys encourage civic participation and government transparency. 

Government for the people and by the people is the American way but it isn’t always easy to understand if local governments are meeting resident expectations and truly representing their needs. Performance management surveys are one key way to understand how residents view government actions, programs and initiatives. 

Community Survey Questions

A survey can consist of one or two questions and focus on a specific topic so that local government officials can gauge resident opinions on a particular initiative or issue, or can involve pages of questions, and be more general. Short surveys tend to not be recurring ones, and are not thought of as “traditional community surveys,” but can be extremely impactful. Longer surveys (although, not too long!), with anywhere from 10 – 50 questions,  can also focus on a specific topic but usually are looking for opinions about general topics and occur yearly or even biannually. Well-written surveys are cognizant of survey fatigue. Just a small turn of phrase or adding a new question based on current topics, can help residents see the value of participating. By asking the same set of questions on a somewhat regular basis, these types of community surveys serve as valuable performance management and benchmarking tools.  

Examples of community survey questions for performance management

  1. Are you a resident?
  2. How many years have you lived in [your city/county]?
  3. Which neighborhood do you live in?
  4. How would you rate your quality of life in [your city/county]?
  5. How would you rate your city services?

Examples of community survey questions for projects or local initiatives

  1. Are you currently a resident of [city/county]
  2. For the following city services, please rank the level of importance of each service to you and your community …
  3. What additional City service needs should the City consider as part  of the budget process (select all that apply) 
  4. How would you prefer to attend/view City Council and other public meetings held by the [city/country]?
  5. Optional To what age group do you belong?
  6. Optional What is your yearly household income?

Top 10 most popular survey questions

Below are the top 10 survey questions from Zencity surveys around the U.S.:

  1. Are you a resident of [city/county]?
  2. How do you prefer to receive information from the [city/county]? 
  3. How likely are you to recommend [city/county] as a place to live?
  4. How would you rate your satisfaction with [city/county] services?
  5. What is your most high priority issue in [city/county]? (open answer)
  6. How would you like to see [city/county] better support [affordable housing, public and mental health, etc]?
  7. To what age group do you belong?
  8. What is your annual household income?
  9. What would you most want to change in [city/county]?
  10. Where do you think you will be living in 5 years from now?

Community survey tools, like Zencity, enable local governments to ask a set group of questions on an ongoing basis and  add ad hoc questions for public opinions about a certain project or initiative. Most surveys also include an open text question where residents can share issues that are important to them and give feedback. 

What is a community needs assessment survey?

According to the Community Tool Box webpage of the University of Kansas, a community needs assessment survey is a “way of asking group or community members what they see as the most important needs of that group or community.” Assessment surveys have a pre-set list of questions and can be conducted informally through discussions among community members or formally through written or digital surveys. 

What is the difference between assessment and survey?

Another definition of a needs assessment is provided by the World Health Organization (WHO): “The primary purpose of needs assessment is to identify which people are in need, disaggregated by different categories of people… and different types of needs; determine the severity of their needs; and pinpoint the type of assistance they require to ensure prioritized, focused, response planning.” 

A needs assessment seeks to understand the spectrum of needs and risks, along with the geography of the needs, the severity and how long the need is for or has existed.  

A survey is a way to acquire information, through questions that are asked of a certain percentage of a population. 

Surveys always include:

  • Chosen respondents that are picked intentionally to provide a representative sample of the population
  • Anonymous data
  • Standardized procedure so that each question is asked in the same way

Both surveys and needs assessments can be conducted over the phone, online, or in-writing and mailed back. 

What is the American community survey questionnaire?

The Census Office defines the American Community Survey as “an ongoing survey that provides vital information on a yearly basis about our nation and its people. Information from the survey generates data that help determine how more than $675 billion in federal and state funds are distributed each year.”

The American Community Survey questionnaire asks questions related to geography, language(s) spoken, gender, race, and much more.  The American Community Survey is run by the Census Office and affects community planning for hospitals and schools, infrastructure decisions, improving emergency, and other municipal services, and more. The information is used by legislators, public officials, community leaders, and businesses. 

Community survey examples

A great community survey example are these recent surveys that Zencity administered: 

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. 

Zencity is reimagining the community survey. Let us run your next survey. Schedule a demo.