Feature Article - January 2007
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Satisfaction Guaranteed

Find out what people want and keep everyone happy

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Develop your survey

Armed with this information, you can prepare to question the community-unless you've already gotten enough insight to know where to target your efforts. If you determine that you need to talk to those in the neighborhood, you first need to decide how to proceed.

A consultant to assist with a community survey (or one taking a larger role in developing your master plan) could cost from $50,000 to $150,000 depending on the size of the city, Hammersley said.

If you're not sure you can afford this (as many smaller park districts and other organizations can't), "speak to a local consultant for a couple of hours to get a handle on things," Silver suggested. "Or, if you need to, write up a small contract. Just be very specific as to what you want."

Smaller communities in northern Arizona have been known to use Northern Arizona University's parks and recreation management students as resources for research. But if your organization is a long way from Flagstaff, don't despair. There could be a nonprofit organization or local university willing to help. (Visit www.extension.iastate.edu/Publications/CRD334.pdf for one example of university resources available online.)

Of course, you could always handle the process yourself. But whether you're employing outside assistance or not, start by determining what you'd like to know. "Touch on community satisfaction with current programs," Hammersley said. "Ask them what activities they are currently participating in, ask them what they'd like to participate in but don't and why, and then move into areas of need. What would they like to see in facilities or services?"

And, most importantly, follow up by asking about methods for paying for the alterations, Hammersley said. "Bond issue, property taxes, sales taxes, private donations, grants, partnerships? Give them that list and ask for their preferences. Find out what they're willing to do."

This element is key because "it takes a long time to develop strategies for funding," Hammersley noted. In the 1996 assessment of Flagstaff, Ariz., an aquatic center was the number-one request, but it wasn't until 2003 that the $14 million bond passed to pay for it.

It's also important to calculate your questions carefully.

"[N]arrow things down," said Diane Nicely, executive director of the Beaumont Centre Family YMCA in Lexington, Ky. Rather than an open-ended question-What new facilities would you like to add?-allow respondents to select from a list of pre-approved choices (perhaps developed from your preliminary conversations with key players in the community). "If you just ask, it gets a little crazy," Nicely explained. "Someone will suggest you put a golf course in the back."

Another factor to consider when developing questions is how you're asking, especially because organizations across the country must reach out to specific ethnic groups and immigrants, who make up a rapidly growing portion of the population.

"You have to make a culturally targeted survey," explained Ivonne Rangel-Lira, site director of the General Robert E. Wood Boys and Girls Club on Chicago's south side. "In our case, we know it's a Latino community and most don't speak English, so we target accordingly."

Start with some information about the cultures in your community and the needs found through preliminary research, she suggested. A more general survey may not get you the information you want.

After you've developed your questions about community needs and areas of interest, "figure out who you want answers from and what parties to ask," Silver said.

Telephone or mail surveys are the most expensive and time-consuming possibilities, but you can also gain insight from focus groups, by inviting local families to town-hall meetings or by hosting an open house at your facility. Don't forget to ask current members or participants for their opinions, too.