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How We Give Input

November 28, 2009

One of the questions being polled at the Portland Plan workshops is the preferred way of providing input on public issues.

While it was no surprise that folks indicated that attending a public meeting was the favorite approach (after all, these folks were at a public meeting), I was a bit taken aback that the number two choice was completing an online survey. I have to admit that I’ve always found these a little bit constraining (you can’t very easily color outside the lines).

What do you think about online surveys as a way to gather public input?

Beaumont School workshop:

David Douglas workshop:

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5 comments

  1. When I was on Portland Parks’ “SPLAT” committee (skateparks) we used on-line surveys to collect community recreation stats.

    We noted how the data was skewed by non-residents who learned of the survey from on-line advocates who communicated the existence of the survey to various on-line forums.

    I think it’s a good way to collect data, but it misses a few tools necessary for normalizing the data:
    – On-line validation that the survey respondent actually lives in Portland
    – A corollary survey that collects input from those unable to use on-line communication tools


  2. I think the best answer to the survey question would be, “The way the decision makers believe most.” I note Kent (above) indicating that his group put out a (online) survey and then decided they shouldn’t really trust the results.

    So, Chris, what form of input do decision makers believe most? Do they try to balance input from various sources, trying to understand the bias of each source? For instance, if I were good a public speaking and not nervous in groups, I might favor public meetings. If I were a geek, I might favor online surveys. If I felt a particular official knew who I was, I might favor writing or calling.

    What form to you favor? What form do the others on the planning commission favor?


  3. In my (brief) experience, it seems to me that Planning Commission responds to (in order of impact):

    1) In person testimony
    2) Written testimony
    3) Summaries of public comment from open houses, etc. earlier in the public input process

    But there are also clearly some filters. We know when someone has made a deliberate effort to pack a room.

    Many of the elected officials I know are more likely to be influenced by a well-designed public opinion survey. The are both more scientific and more expensive than online surveys.

    However, online surveys were an important component of the development of the Streetcar System Plan.


  4. Thinking about that last answer, I’d like to revise and extend my remarks 🙂

    The public comment from earlier in the process is very important, as it influences the work that staff brings to us. It gets less weight in Planning Commission deliberation because it’s already been incorporated to a degree.

    But the real question I was trying to ask with this post is whether citizens felt like online surveys allowed them to be sufficiently expressive with their input.


  5. I am not a fan of online surveys unless they allow written comments with the answers. I’m also not a fan because I know how unscientific – even intentionally “stuffed” – they can be. I’ve got five computers in my house, each with a separate IP address, and I have lots of email addresses. If I can vote five times w/o even trying hard…

    Its the lack of comments that puts me off the most. How likely is it that you will ask the questions I really care about?



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