The city of Fort Smith launches its National Citizen Survey (NCS) this week with a goal of 1,200 responses, according to Fort Smith Communications Manager Tracy Winchell.
Fort Smith Administrator Ray Gosack said on Monday (July 30) the NCS will be conducted by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) in cooperation with National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) at a cost of "just under $9,000."
The sampling of citizens are said to "scientifically mirror all Fort Smith household incomes, neighborhoods, citizens’ educations, and other key demographic data," according to Winchell. Participants can expect to receive the surveys via regular mail over "the first two weeks of August."
Gosack said the first questionnaires, which should take "about 10 minutes to complete," could start arriving as early as Friday (Aug. 3), but would more likely show up "early next week."
Communities that participate in the NCS largely answer the same questions regarding how respondents rate their cities as a place to live, which includes "the various opportunities available – from recreation to public transportation – and how often respondents visit with their neighbors," Winchell said.
Winchell revealed that the data from the surveys "will help us as we put the final touches on our budget in early October" with a first draft expected for review by the Fort Smith Board of Directors "in mid-November," added Gosack.
The surveys also seek input regarding opinions about the quality of city services as well as the level of customer service provided by the different departments.
In addition to the standard questions, the city government is allowed to ask "three to four" region-specific questions.
Gosack revealed Monday that his office would ask respondents to rate their perceptions regarding the "transparency or openness" of Fort Smith government as "poor, fair, good, or excellent."
City administration also hopes to learn more about "where people are getting their information" and "what the city can do to improve communication."
To these points, City Director Kevin Settle is eager to learn more.
"Communication today is different than it was six years ago. Can you imagine life before the iPhone? How we communicate with citizens will be key moving forward. The majority of people today have an iPhone or a Facebook account or an email account. We need to know where our efforts are best focused," Settle said.
"We want to know: do people want to see a lot of raw data or more refined data about things that are of interest to them? It's possible they may want both. If that's the case, we can accomplish that. We just need to know, and don't want to overwhelm them with useless information."
Gosack continued: "Right now, we're not as targeted or focused regarding what we put on the website because we're not sure what people want, so we're putting it all out there, and a concern is we may be overwhelming people with so much information that they're feeling lost, so they're not getting what they need or want. Hopefully, the survey will tell us what the community expects."
The last survey, administered by Fort Smith City Government, was specific to the sanitation department and received only 27% participation.