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December 28, 2009 - A Tale of Two Papers
Lessons learned from the Best Places to Live Program's beta test, by Paul Butcher

A Tale of Two Papers
Lessons learned from the Best Places to Live Program's beta test

December 28, 2009

by: Paul Butcher

Charles Dickens wrote in his novel A Tale of Two Cities "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...". This pretty well sums up the results of the beta test for the Best Places to Live Program's Citizen Satisfaction Survey.

It was the best of times.

POPULUS' Best Places to Live Program has demonstrated its ability to deliver value to a community through the following successes.

Success #1: Inform local communities by identifying their most important issues.

This is a very powerful capability which provides the insight necessary for local government and media to focus their resources on what matters most.

Through the Gap Analysis conducted as part of the Citizen Satisfaction survey, the Best Places to Live Program accurately identified the most important issues within the two communities where it operated. It's important to note that the most important issues for Treasure Valley residents are different than the most important issues for Idaho Falls residents.

NOTE: The Best Places to Live Program's Citizen Satisfaction survey identified the same issues in the same order and with the same magnitude as did the survey conducted by the City of Boise, at less than 20% of the cost. Compare the top four issues identified in the CI SURVEY REPORT page 38 to the top four issues identified in the survey conducted by the City of Boise Citizen Satisfaction Report page 31.

The Post Register is very pleased with their results. The Post Register newspaper is published in Idaho Falls and is the second largest daily newspaper in the state. The Publisher, Roger Plothow found great value in the survey. I would point you directly to their three front-page articles based on their results, but their Web site is a for-pay site. Their website can be found at

As told to me by Roger Plothow, "The survey worked wonderfully well at identifying the issues that are important to my community. Because of current economic pressures, we have been forced to work with a leaner staff than in years past. The survey results have helped me and my team focus the efforts of our staff in order to deliver the content our readers want and our community needs. My investment in the Best Places to Live Program has already paid for itself. The bottom line is that the survey added a great deal of value to my newspaper, my readers, and my community.".

NOTE: The Post Register created a three part series of front-page articles focusing on the top three issues within their community as identified by their readers in the Best Places to Live Program Citizen Satisfaction survey. These articles ran on successive Sundays beginning on 12/6/09. References to and descriptions of these articles can be found at IN THE NEWS.

Success #2: Engage local communities by stimulating and focusing debate on facts rather than opinion.

Only when debate is focused on facts will informed and effective change occur. When facts are unknown or merely based on the opinion of a few then change happens that leaves most people scratching their heads and asking themselves, "what in the world were they thinking?".

The article published by the Idaho Statesman on October 31, 2009 titled "Survey: A third of Boiseans back streetcar" received much more than the typical amount of reader comments. For the most part, the readers used the facts presented in the article based on the survey results to make their points. (refer to the following article:

By identifying the fact that a majority of the citizens of the city of Boise are opposed to a streetcar as it has been presented to them thus far informs the city government that there is still work to do to convince the electorate of the benefits of their proposed solution. Kudos to the City of Boise for conducting its own citizen satisfaction surveys to identify the important issues for their residents. However, perhaps they could solicit more input as to what efforts may best impact those issues most effectively.

Success #3: Inspire sustainable prosperity for local communities by building large Web-based citizen panels quickly.

This result demonstrates the widespread demand for this community improvement program. Larger panels enable more precise community-wide surveys which will expand the impact and power of this program to improve the prosperity of local communities.

Over 63% of all respondents statewide, when offered 9 different methods of accurately determining the will of the people, chose scientific surveys sponsored by an independent organization with no political affiliation. Refer to the SURVEY RESULTS page 97.

In less than two years the Community Insight panel has grown to nearly 4,000 members! You can check out the size of the panel to date at PANEL STATS. As the panel grows, its community-wide precision increases.

Success #4: Maintain affordability for sustainability.

This program only succeeds when it's used. By leveraging the latest methodologies and technolgies available in the research community, POPULUS' Best Places to Live Program's Citizen Satisfaction survey is able to be conducted for a fraction of the cost of smaller studies conducted by the City of Boise and the Idaho Statesman.

It was the worst of times.

"What happened with the Statesman?" This is a question I hear a lot lately. The Idaho Statesman felt it was in their best interest to have better short-term community-wide precision for surveys they report than the Best Places to Live Program can presently deliver. More expensive alternatives can deliver a higher level of community-wide precision than the Best Places to Live Program. As a result, the Idaho Statesman has decided to suspend their participation in the Program.

The reason the Best Places to Live Program isn't able to deliver community-wide precision in the short-term is due to a combination of the limited number of participants and the narrow participant recruiting methodology. By recruiting through a newspaper, the sample reflects the demographics of newspaper readership which is older, more affluent, and more educated than the community in general. The sampling methodology does however enable readership surveys with a level of precision rivaling that of the more expensive alternatives.

To address this issue, POPULUS is investigating a modified sampling methodology that will resolve the known short-term community-wide precision issue while retaining the other strengths of the Program. If feasible, this modified sampling methodology will be used when the program goes live in 2010.

If the recruiting methodology isn't modified, how big does the panel have to be in order to provide a high degree of community-wide precision in addition to the already high readership precision? It's hard to say precisely, but I estimate that when the panel is approximately 3% of the population it's purporting to represent, it will be able to provide results with the same level of community-wide precision as other, more expensive alternatives. For the Treasure Valley, with a population of approximately 500,000, the panel would need to contain approximately 15,000 Treasure Valley residents which could happen in as little as 3 years. Once the panel reaches a sufficient size, the survey sampling can be randomly balanced based on the key discriminating variables from the entire Web panel. This will ensure that the sample completing the survey is representative of the entire population.


In summary, the Best Places to Live Program has demonstrated its ability to drive local prosperity through Informing, Engaging, and Inspiring the community.

Specifically, POPULUS' Best Places to Live Program and Community Insight have proven their ability to:

  1. Identify the most important issues within each community in order to keep community resources focused on the right things;
  2. Stimulate and focus community debate on facts rather than opinion so that the the community is focused on the things right;
  3. Grow large community-based Web panels quickly which will ultimately yield precise community-wide surveying; and,
  4. Maintain affordability which is critical for sustainability.
The one criticism of the Program to date is its short-term lack of community-wide scientific precision when compared to more expensive alternatives. If feasible, this issue will be resolved with a modified sampling when the Program goes live in 2010.

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