City says rise in online polls is adaptation to COVID-19

But what is the role of polls in public engagement and how are they factored into policy decisions?

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As many people, businesses and organizations have done throughout the pandemic, the City of Regina has had to adapt, especially when it comes to public engagement.

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That’s why residents may have noticed an increase in online polls launched by the city to gather feedback and provide a platform for those who want to share their voice.

From a proposed new off-leash dog park for the AE Wilson Park to back suite regulations and everything in between, the list of “pledge projects” on the city’s BeHeard website is long.

But what is the role of polls in public engagement and how are they factored into policy decisions?

“Before COVID…a vast majority of our public engagement took place at forums like open houses and community workshops,” Leah Goodwin, the city’s senior communications strategist, said Tuesday.

She said these places are places for residents who are impacted by an issue and/or feel passionate enough to voice their opinion. Feedback from an open house or workshop is eventually presented to the board or administration.

“That’s the result we’re trying to replicate with these digital surveys,” Goodwin said.

Murphy the dog plays at the Cathy Lauritsen Memorial Off-Leash Dog Park on January 27, 2022. Dog parks are just one of many topics Regina residents can share their thoughts on the city's BeHeard website.
Murphy the dog plays at the Cathy Lauritsen Memorial Off-Leash Dog Park on January 27, 2022. Dog parks are just one of many topics Regina residents can share their thoughts on the city’s BeHeard website. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Chief’s Post

Online polls are open to anyone who wants to share their thoughts, similar to an open house. But the results are just a “data point” collected by the city to inform policy decisions.

Things like best practices, what’s happening in other municipalities, technical expertise and market research are also collected and considered when a decision is made.

Market research involves hiring a third-party company to conduct research and gather feedback from a representative sample — not just those who feel motivated enough to complete an online survey.

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While both are tools the city uses to inform policy, Goodwin said they are very different, and not every issue warrants using both. A neighborhood-specific project doesn’t necessarily need citywide input to inform a decision.

But in cases where an issue impacts residents across the city, random sampling of feedback is key, triggering that aspect of market research.

This was the case for a recent survey on intensification and growth policy, which focused primarily on incentives for intensification. The survey was completed last week, but was carried out in addition to market analysis and a statistical consumer housing survey conducted by a third-party research firm.

Still, some criticized the survey on social media, saying it was difficult to understand and they believed the questions were designed to elicit specific responses.

Jason Disano, director of the Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research at the University of Saskatchewan, pointed to one question in particular that he said made him cringe:

Should the City of Regina consider limiting high-density housing in new neighborhoods in an attempt to push this development to central areas?

“That’s a loaded question. A better way to ask the question would have been something like “If Regina was considering limiting high density housing in the future, would it be better to reduce that density” and then give options – a newer suburban neighborhood , central areas, etc. “, Disano mentioned. “Basically the way it’s worded pushes people to say yes, they should push it in the essential areas.

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When asked to comment on the perception that the survey is trying to gather specific answers, communications and engagement director Jill Sveinson said it was important to remember “where we are. in a project.

She noted that the survey was developed in the context of the city’s official community plan, which includes a 30% intensification target for the city core.

“There are different parts of the conversation that happen and so it’s not meant to be influential,” Sveinson said. “He’s trying to get input so the board can make decisions based on the direction or policy he’s exploring.”

Goodwin said a ten-year review of the OCP is scheduled for next year, where density targets and intensification targets can be reviewed.

“It’s not perfect,” Goodwin said of the city’s online engagement, which includes project timelines, background, discussion papers, FAQs and more posted with the polls on BeHeard. . “But I think we are really trying to take steps to increase transparency, but also to increase people’s understanding of what we intend, how we intend to obtain information and what are some of the things that might be considered as we move forward with decision making. »

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Melvin G. Rodriguez