Friday, October 25, 2013

A Survey of Surveys

By Evan Robertson

If there is one underlying philosophy that drives Market Street’s approach to every project, it is this: every community is wholly different. Each and every community we’ve worked in has their own concerns, internal capacity, assets, and critics. Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a diverse set of communities over my years at Market Street, ranging from Watertown, SD (pop: 27,442) to the Metro Atlanta, GA (pop: 5.3 million). And while each and every community is unique in its own respect, there are pervading themes that crop up during public input. For instance, I’ve yet to facilitate a focus group of workforce development professionals who feel that they’ve completely addressed their talent pipeline. While the underlying issues are completely different, along with the assets and capacity to overcome those challenges, the common concern still exists.

Market Street conducts a ton of surveys. Over the past two years alone we’ve handled well over 8,000 responses to community surveys we’ve conducted throughout the country – these responses have immeasurably contributed to strategies that encapsulate the community’s vision and, ultimately, lead to successful implementation. These surveys, when combine; provide a rather unique picture of the types of strengths a community identifies as well as their perceived challenges. Below are two quick graphics that combine over 8,000 open-ended response questions to two survey questions we ask in nearly every community. Words that appear larger were utilized more frequently in open-ended responses than those that appear smaller.

What is your community’s greatest strength?

Source: Market Street Services
Number of Responses: 8,103

The preceding graphic takes over 8,103 responses that we’ve received to an open ended question we ask in a variety of formats, but it boils down to: What is your community’s greatest strength? By far, the most dominate response: people. Those individuals that comprise the community add to its distinct flare, and contribute positively towards the overall health and social fabric – further instilling a strong sense of place within the survey respondent – are most frequently stated as its greatest strength. Simply put, people make the place – which is encapsulated in the next most dominant response: community. Finally, geographic location is also a popular response. This is stated in a variety of formats ranging from proximity to a large metropolitan area (i.e. a small town with big city amenities) to interstate access. Other less frequent, but no less important strengths include quality education systems (schools), low cost of living (cost), economic opportunities, and workforce quality. 

What is your community’s greatest challenge?

Source: Market Street Services
Number of Responses: 7,965

As you can see, there is less agreement between respondents over the greatest challenge their communities face: each community is distinct. While some stand out, they are less predominant. Lack is a common response, usually tied to opportunity, jobs, diversity, and quality education institutions (be they higher education or K-12). Interestingly, People as well as Community make an appearance as key challenges – responses usually pertain to individuals resistant to change. Just as individuals positively shape the community so too can others detract. Because many community members intuitively draw the connection between education and continued economic success, Education and Schools are also often cited challenges.[1]

While the aggregated surveys show some similarity between key strengths and challenges frequently cited by stakeholders in an assortment of communities over the past two years, the approach to leveraging their strengths and addressing their challenges are exclusive, each requiring individualized strategies that tailor to the community’s internal capacity and shared vision for change - solving a community’s K-12 education challenges, for instance, requires distinct strategies and underlying best practices to inform successful implementation. Our client communities may share common themes, but each is unique.

[1] If you’ve looked at our client map, you’ve realized we’ve facilitated many projects in the Atlanta area. It goes without saying that the region’s primary concern is transportation. It appears as large as it does due to our body of work in metro Atlanta rather than being a common trait all communities face. Some of the communities we work in have an average commute time of ten to fifteen minutes. In Atlanta, that’s enough time to get you on the interstate, if you are lucky.