I, for one, can attest the fact that our community has many needs. The opinions around the community are various and recently, with the help of the United Way, a community needs assessment was conducted in an attempt to gain insight into what the citizens of the county feel are the greatest needs.
The survey was placed online and passed out to multiple agencies, organizations, and public systems. The detailed results of the survey can be found at http://www.unitedwaybc.com/files/CNA_Final_Report_08_09_10_1PM.pdf .
I simply wanted to highlight some interesting revelations concerning the survey.
#1- The total responses submitted were 889. Once again, a small verbal minority is present to speak for the 100,000 citizens of the county; however, this isn’t to say the sample of respondents wasn’t representative. Some of the first people to complete the survey were your locally elected officials who should, in theory, represent the populous from which they were elected. Regardless, despite support of major churches and agencies countywide, only 889 people voiced their opinions on community needs.
#2- Almost 40% of the respondents were working in education. Since the survey was passed out through the school systems, teachers were very likely to respond. This is a proportionately high number from this occupation field. According to US Census data, only about 6.9% of the working population works in education. The end result is a survey that is heavily influenced by government, education-based employees. This is further reinforced by the 64.5% of respondents who report to have college degrees, a ratio that in the general population is only 11.9%.
#3- The majority of respondents was middle aged and possessed higher incomes than the general populous. One can infer then that the responses were people’s perceptions of public need and/or subjective reflections of what is needed.
#4- 46%+ of people noted they didn’t know what services existed and who to contact. This tells our community leaders that we need to do a better job of communicating what is out there for citizens. Assuming this survey was heavily influenced by those who work for government (i.e. education), that might indicate a BIG communication breakdown.
#5- The top needs are mostly health and healthcare related. Maybe it was the attention that healthcare has had in public debate or maybe the rising cost of care is overwhelming but regardless, perception is reality. People feel, at best, distracted by their health needs.
In sum, though this survey has its limitations, it is still information that we didn’t have before. It still provides insight into what certain people are thinking and feeling. Most importantly, it has laid the ground work for future surveys and such which might yield even more valuable data in the years to come.
As for me, as a commissioner, I always find information useful. I would rather be sifting through too much communication and data than to not have enough. It is tedious but knowledge is a great platform to construct ideas from.
UPDATE: After posting this, a friend notified me that he found it somewhat critical of the assessment. The purpose of this website is to communicate clearly and I never want my posts to be misunderstood. So allow me to be more direct.
The men and women who designed, implemented, and participated in this study are to be commended. No one ever acknowledged that it would be an easy task. I know many of those who responsible for its success and they are the most capable men I know. I count this as a success on their part. As I noted before, I find the information valuable and I hope it generates more in depth discussion in the coming year.
That being said, I still want to acknowledge the lack of participation in the survey, especially by certain demographics. The lack of participation and attention to our community is a growing problem. We see that lack not only in survey participation but in the elections themselves. I want to encourage more people to be engaged in our community and I only feel that can be done if we willingly address our deficits in participation. That “small vocal minority” cannot continue to do all of the work. We need YOU!
Lastly, point #4 was the most enlightening to me. It said that as a commissioner, I need to find ways to better communicate with the public. This site is one of them and that is why I posted the direct link to the survey results. I would hope folks might take the time to review it in its entirety. The responsibility of advertising and communicating our services is joint. I am currently asking myself what can the county do better. It is a question I look forward to asking my peers in the weeks to come.