The Downtown Steering Committee is conducting a survey, with a wide variety of questions. “06880” reader Jeff Block thinks there are problems. He writes:
The Downtown Steering Committee (DSC), under the guidance of urban planning consultant RBA, has made available a public survey intended to glean from Westport residents a vision of what the town could look like in the future.
The intention is sound. However, the survey and the data-gathering process are flawed. To date there have been 500+ responses to the survey, which is available both electronically and in hard copy. The survey specifically targets responses from Westport residents, but there are no controls or requirements that can be used to identify that the person filling out the survey is in fact from Westport. Additionally, the DSC cannot prevent individuals from inputting more than one response to the survey.
During the initial issuance of the electronic survey, committee members realized that people could send the survey in multiple times. One DSC member actually noted that he had submitted it on at least 2 occasions.
The DSC revisited their process and built in a control using the computer device’s IP address, to prevent anyone from answering the survey more than once from the same device. However, anyone with more than one device, for example an iPad, mobile phone or additional computer, could submit as many surveys as devices available.
Since there is no requirement to identify respondents, it is impossible to know how many times an individual may have submitted multiple surveys, and more importantly if the person responding is even a Westport resident.
The data gathered to date cannot be relied on. In view of the facts, the DSC needs to respect its goal of public transparency, bite the bullet, revisit their processes and reissue the survey, incorporating a tested set of well designed controls.
Dewey Loselle and Melissa Kane — general chair and public outreach chair of the committee — respond:
It is disappointing that there are a number of erroneous facts, misinformation and misguided conclusions circulating that give a false impression about the validity and utility of the survey.
1) More than 750 completed on-line surveys have been received in roughly 2 weeks. This is a very high response rate in such a short time. We have reached out to all kinds of community organizations — over 50 in total — and asked them to urge their memberships to participate in the survey. We have already received a very high level of cooperation and support from many of the organizations. Clearly, Westporters are very interested and are engaging with the process.
2) The survey is meant to capture general sentiments, values, and the ideas of Westport residents regarding the future of downtown. It is also meant to get Westport residents to think about downtown, their relationship with it and their vision for the future of downtown, and encourage them to be engaged in the planning process.
The survey does not represent a vote or a referendum on any downtown issues. The responses to questions are purposely structured to avoid the use of “yes/no” questions. The responses provide a spectrum of choices (e.g., “very important,” “somewhat important,” “I don’t know,”) that reflect individual priorities and preferences among an array of issues.
3) No one can send in a response more than once from the same device. A safeguard permits only 1 response per IP address. Early on we allowed testers (and a few early responders) to change their responses to a previously submitted survey. This, however, still only allowed for 1 survey to be counted.
While it is possible that someone could submit more than 1 response from a different device, we believe this to be unlikely. It is difficult enough to get people to respond to the survey once.
Similarly, we believe the concern that many out-of-towners will respond to be a non-issue. What would be the motivation? There are opportunities for non-Westporters to comment on the process on our website, as well as through a separate Downtown Merchants Association survey. The law of large numbers posits that valid survey respondents will overwhelm any few potential miscreants who enter an additional survey from another device, as well as anyone from out of town who might decide to respond.
4) Every survey involves tradeoffs depending on the topic, level of security needed, cost and participation rate desired. We considered asking people to provide their first and last names and address, but felt that might discourage many from taking the survey. We decided to ask (optionally) for the name of the street on which a respondent lives. We balanced the idea of capturing personal information with the need to get people engaged, encouraged to respond and motivated about this planning process.
5) We have the ability to review and compare individual survey entries. We will flag open-ended responses that appear to be unusually similar, or that have conflicting responses, and evaluate them more closely to determine if any of them should be rejected. Results of the survey will be presented in a public forum and published on our website along with other relevant studies, project deliverables and surveys.
We believe this fully explains the transparency of this survey, and the common sense processes and controls. There is no reason to reissue the survey.
We urge every resident who has not yet taken the survey to do so. The Your Downtown survey is available at www.westportdowntownct.com.