Nearly 15 years ago, we began our campaign to convince local governments to take a long-range view of where they are and where they want to be rather than a more short-term look at where they currently stand. When people ask us, “What difference does this make in terms of research and insights?”, our answer is that it switches the focus from a reactive view—e.g., asking questions and providing data on where they currently stand—to a proactive one—that is, setting specific goals as to where they want to be, gathering insights on how to get there, and measuring progress towards those goals.

Virtually every city that conducts community research includes a question about whether residents and stakeholders feel the city is headed in the right or the wrong direction. Yet, how this information is analyzed and presented can provide very different insights. To illustrate, we use our national benchmarking research and present some common and then an alternative way to present the results of direction the city is headed questions. It is pretty amazing the different stories you can tell with the same data.

Focusing on the Positive: Top 2 Box Analysis

Many cities conduct resident surveys and focus primarily on the number of residents who give them positive ratings. While the survey questionnaire often uses a rating scale that ranges anywhere from 5 to 11 points, the positive-only approach typically combines these scale points and report a single number

The Results:

The Headlines:

The majority of our residents feel that our city is headed in the right direction.

The End:

We’re doing just fine😊. Keep up the good work.

While this most definitely tells a story—possibly one the city is happy to tell—these results aren’t very informative and don’t tell the whole story.

Using Data Trends

Other cities focus on trends in the data and closely watch year-over-year changes.

Being a bit more nuanced, these cities often look at and may respond to more granular changes. Thus, while they might be using the same scales illustrated above, they may aggregate the scale points differently and present a different story.

The Results:

The Story

The 2013 Headline: Residents are five times as likely to say the city is headed in the right direction rather than wrong.

2015 and 2018 Headlines: The majority of residents continue to agree that the city is headed in the right direction.

The 2015 Internal Message: Hey look at the increase in the number of residents who strongly feel the city is headed in the right direction. We must be doing something right😊. Yeah team.

The 2018 Internal Message: Oh no look at that. There’s an increase in the number of residents who feel the city is headed in the wrong direction☹. What’s with that? We better do something fast.

The 2019 Headline: Nearly six times as many residents say the city is headed in the direction rather than wrong. Up significantly from 2013 when the city first did this research.

The End: Problem solved or maybe it was just a blip in the data. We’re doing great😊😊. Keep up the good work.

Once again, there is definitely a story here and one with a happy ending. But what drama.

There Is a Better Way

One thing missing from the previous examples is they ignore the people in the middle. Are they really positive? Are they negative? Or do they just not know or care?

Borrowing a page from the Net Promoter Score (NPS) provides an alternative approach to analyzing this data and tells a completely different story. The NPS is a tool that is widely used in the private sector to measure customer loyalty. There are benchmarks available and companies often establish specific goals for an acceptable NPS for their organization.

The premise behind the NPS is that there are three types of customers based on their experience with the organization. “Promoters” are the people who are likely to promote the organization or brand—or in the public sector are likely to support and advocate for the organization’s policies, programs, and services. In contrast, “detractors” are the people who are unlikely to support what the organization is doing and may actively advocate against the organization. Finally, “passives” are those who are neither strong advocates for nor against the organization’s policies.

Calculating an organization’s NPS is very simple—you simply subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. A negative score means you have more detractors than promoters. A positive score means you have more promoters than detractors. The obvious goal is for the organization to pursue policies or introduce programs and services that create more promoters than detractors. While the passives are excluded from the calculation they are not to be ignored as more passives can introduce a lot of uncertainty into the equation when it comes time to gauge real support for what the organization is doing—will they swing towards the promoters or detractors.

The Results:

The Story

The 2013 Headline: City sets aggressive goal to build support for future policies and programs. City seeks community members to actively engage on what the future should be.

The 2013 Internal Message: We have our work cut out for us. We need to better understand the problem and citizen concerns and develop strategies so that by 2023 we can be sure that our community is behind us and supports our plans for the future. Our goal is to achieve an NPS score of 0 (i.e., equal number of promoters and detractors) by 2023. What do we need to do to get there?

The 2019 Headline: City is headed in the right direction but still has some work to do. City continues to seek community members to actively engage with city on current and future decision-making.

The End: There is no end to this story as the pursuit of the future is never-ending.

What’s the story you want to tell? ComEngage.US offers the opportunity to gather and benchmark key metrics such as the direction your city is headed while at the same time building a representative sample of residents who are willing to engage with your city on an ongoing basis to provide insights to help move these key metrics in the right direction.

Want to learn more about ComEngage.US?

Be part of the discussion

Please join our online Community Leader Engagement community and learn what we are talking about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment