15 May Council Satisfaction RATE$ Trending Downward!
Over the past few years newfocus has seen a number of significant shifts in research within local government. Research needs around social and community engagement are evolving and becoming more complex.
Shifts in research scope
With the ever increasing pressure on budgets we are now seeing a shift in the research scope, with initiatives moving towards more strategic implementation and communication of survey results across different departments, increased measurement of staff performance in relation to delivery of council services and an increased need for benchmarking against other councils. Community consultations have also become more strategic, with change management, pre-testing of marketing communications and brand research becoming more prevalent. “Best Practice” Councils are becoming more focused on ratepayer needs and taking a more strategic approach to the long term needs of the community to ensure value for money implementation.
Some interesting trends in community sentiment
It has become increasingly apparent that local governments want to know how they are performing in comparison to other councils, to help set benchmarks and targets of where they should be performing. The philosophy of “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” is helping drive performance and rate payer value. newfocus has had extensive involvement with local councils throughout Australia. Using the experience gained, newfocus has conducted a review of council research, creating a number of important benchmarking metrics.
Whilst there are some stand out performers, our benchmarking data and research has revealed that satisfaction across a range of important metrics is on the decline at a national level. These areas include overall council performance, supporting local businesses, communication, performance of elected members and interaction with Council staff:
- Council performance
This metric reveals the overall performance of a council based on resident’s satisfaction with the council and their perceptions. Overall resident satisfaction on council performance remains positive, however has declined on a national level. This not only reflects actual performance but the ever increasing expectation of the community.
- Supporting local business
This metric reveals the level of support councils provide for local business, community development and tourism input, including their level of encouragement for local industry and jobs. From 2011-2012 there was a substantial decline in the national benchmarking figure, however 2014 figures show a slight increase in satisfaction. This suggests that support for local business and community development is on the rise. Unfortunately this is not the case for all councils.
The communication metric reveals resident satisfaction levels around communication methods and materials received via their local council. Over a four year period there has been a significant decline in satisfaction with the materials residents received and how residents feel messages are communicated. This suggests that communication methods require further focus.
- Elected members
This metric shows a trend in the performance and satisfaction rating for elected members around how they communicate with their community and the level of trust residents have with their elected members. A significant decline in satisfaction was recorded from 2011-2012 with figures remaining at a similar level for the following years. Figures are generally lower suggesting that elected members need to further interact with their communities.
- Staff interaction
This metric shows satisfaction levels around interactions with council staff and the manner in which they handle a query or a problem. Figures have slightly fluctuated nationally over a four year period, with satisfaction remaining generally high. Residents remain generally happy with the customer service they receive, interactions with council staff are generally pleasant and queries are answered to a satisfactory level.
These trends highlight the need for strategic research that will uncover the key performance indicators, showcasing what measures are working and what measures need a higher level of attention and focus.
Getting the methodology right
Whilst it is important for performance to be consistently tracked, it is also important to use up-to-date and reliable methodologies to keep abreast of changing research needs. newfocus has had extensive involvement with resident surveys during our research partnerships with local councils throughout Australia. In this review of research, newfocus identified a number of ‘caution’ points for local governments considering new research or evolved methodologies. The ‘caution’ points include:
Reliance on resident panels – A trend newfocus has noticed in its review is the increasing reliance on resident panels as a means to engage with the community in a faster and more cost effective way. newfocus past experience shows that panel members are not only more informed, but also more actively engaged with councils. Hence, relying solely on panels might provide biased and misleading insights to council. This methodology needs to be accompanied with a survey of randomly chosen community residents.
Relying on in-house research – The newfocus review of industry practices found that reliance on internal research resources compromised scales, types of questions asked and created bias. Councils need experienced, qualified researchers to provide sound insights using sound research methodologies.
Use of unbalanced scales – The use of unbalanced scales has been revealed as a common occurrence which will unintentionally create bias and positively skew results, providing unreliable data to key decision makers (ie “very satisfied”/”satisfied”/”somewhat satisfied”/”not very satisfied”/”not at all satisfied”).
Asking the “usual witnesses” – unfortunately much community consultation is skewed towards the loudest voice, or requires respondents to self-select to become involved. Asking the right questions of the right people and using appropriate sampling methods is paramount.
The right use of methodologies will eliminate common mistakes made around bias and skewed results, compromised scales, questions asked, and reliance on in-house research.
The newfocus community engagement division has been involved in community attitude research, resident satisfaction, community consultation, strategic planning and stakeholder research for numerous local governments over the past 23 years. We have accumulated a wealth of historical data as well as creating an extensive database of publicly available results, meaning we can provide benchmark results for councils across a range of key metrics at a state, metro/regional and national level.
Social change is tricky. No two communities are alike, and it’s your job to ensure that things work out. Before you commit valuable tax payers’ resources to any initiative, you really need a clear picture of what is going on.
Will your program work? Does it change anything? What are the risks involved? What is the public opinion on this issue? newfocus can help you answer these questions. To assist and start you off we have developed a complimentary guide:
“The Guide to Market Research in the Digital Age: How to Unlock Hidden Sources of Profit and Community Engagement”
The guide includes a range of tips and advice on how best to leverage community sentiment to both grow business and help get the economy on the move and ensure resident satisfaction remains positive.
Claim your copy by going to www.strategicmarketresearch.com.au alternatively feel free to contact us direct on 1800 807 535.
newfocus is a national market research company, specialising in strategic market research and social research, with offices in Melbourne, Sydney & Adelaide.