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Barking Up the Wrong Tree: The Power of Surveys

How Stakeholder Input Can Keep You and Your Team on Track

If it hadn’t been for accurate data, I wouldn’t have realized I was barking up the wrong tree.

Most people are motivated to run for political office because they want to make a positive difference.  I was no exception.  So when I was approached by a group of citizens shortly after I took office, they easily convinced me that “everyone” wanted a certain vacant lot to become a dog park.

What a great opportunity, I thought.  I would become the dog park champion and make my mark early in my public service career!

But suddenly that underused parcel of land on the border of a commercial and residential area sparked intense public interest.  I had heard from the citizens who were lobbying for a dog park, but I soon learned that there were other citizens who wanted a community garden and that the local retailers wanted the green space paved and turned into a parking lot.

Clearly, some sort of improvement was long overdue, but what was the “right” choice?

I relied on data to make important decisions in my business, so I asked the city to conduct a survey of the residents and businesses located within a half-mile of the property.

Surprise: the dog park was ranked 18 out of the 20 possible uses for the land.

The statistically valid survey indicated that the stakeholders wanted a landscaped park with picnic tables, public art, and open play space for children.  That’s what we did, and it’s the pride of the neighborhood to this day.

In order to make good decisions you need to have accurate data and understand what that data is telling you.

Why is data-driven decision making so important?

  • Decisions are based on objective information. I had heard from a handful of stakeholders, but unbiased survey data gave me the information I needed to address the real preferences of the majority of stakeholders. The survey results allowed me to focus on what was truly important to stakeholders rather than waste time and resources on options of no interest.
  • Asking for input shows stakeholders you care. Taking multiple perspectives into consideration results in the best decisions. I demonstrated my motivation to do what was best for the community by delivering the outcome desired by the majority of stakeholders.
  • A strategic, organized outreach plan can be developed. Because stakeholders were engaged early in the process through the survey, I was able to encourage their continued involvement throughout the entire project. The end result was a win for the entire neighborhood.

They say that a dog is man’s best friend, but in this case it was data that came to my rescue. In fact, I guess you could say it was a citizen survey that kept my political future from going to the dogs.

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