Local Data Gathering: Community Surveys
With a baseline established through existing public data, the community team can take the next step of gathering additional information on broadband access and adoption by undertaking a local data gathering effort. Surveys of local residents, businesses, and institutions can be an effective means to better understanding the technology challenges and opportunities in the community. Survey data can be collected and analyzed to provide insights that simply couldn’t/wouldn’t be discovered without asking community members themselves.
Utilizing the public data from the resources in the previous section can help facilitate conversations with local broadband providers. Some of these providers may already be on your team, but it’s important to begin discussing with the providers any concerns they have with the public data. Often local provider representation may be aware of inaccuracies that are present, and may be able to offer details about the reality of specific areas or situations and provide more accurate information. Ongoing dialog with the providers will help ensure that throughout the process you maintain a working relationship that will be advantageous in the future.
Additionally, local data gathering efforts should also include the collection of physical broadband/technology-related assets. These assets can include structures that can or already support broadband infrastructure including conduit, towers, etc. Assets can also include the community’s internet service providers (ISPs), software and web developers, technology training programs, and others. These assets should be inventoried so that they may be leveraged during the plan implementation phase of the project.
As mentioned, a significant tool for gathering more detailed and specific information about broadband access and adoption within your community is through the use of surveys. Connect Michigan and Connected Nation have developed a series of surveys tailored to specific audiences (residents, businesses by sector, public entities, etc.) that can be used for this purpose. But as with any kind of survey, the key to getting good results is driving a high participation rate from your target audience. The following provides recommendations for implementing a community broadband/technology survey:
Ensure that the entire assembled community team supports the survey and is able to help with its distribution and return. Your team members, ideally, represent a wide swath of the community and this reach can add to the success of the survey and obtain a sizable response.
When launching the survey, it is important to have assistance from the local media in order to get the word out and remind residents and businesses to participate in the survey. When an article about the survey is released always ensure a link to the survey is included.
The team will find that the vast majority of the surveys will be taken online (even by those without internet access at home). It is important that someone on the team is skilled in reaching out to the residents and businesses through social media and email.
Recognize the groups in the community that are most affected by the lack of broadband and then leverage the best method of outreach to that group. For example, if there is a lack of broadband and concern for such among households with school-age children, the team should work with the schools to distribute surveys to parents in order to better understand where and how these households are challenged by broadband.
If there is an event the brings large numbers of the residents or businesses together in one place, have a member of the team attend that event and pass out the business cards or postcards with the online link to the survey. County fairs or other gatherings work well.
Before finalizing the results of the survey, it is important for the team to examine the results to ensure there is proper representation from all the desired groups and geographic areas of the community they wanted to survey. If there is under-representation from a group or area, the team should work to gather additional surveys from these areas in order to form a more complete picture of the community’s broadband challenges.
Developing a structured communication plan for distributing and promoting your surveys can greatly help in achieving this success. Some suggested actions and tools to include in this communication plan include: Press release which includes a link to the online survey (for those with access); Highlight the survey at public meetings and events (government, schools, etc.); Signage/flyers and printed hardcopy surveys available in libraries, community centers, senior centers, local government offices; Business card-sized reminders with survey link for K-12 students to take home; Printed hardcopy surveys or business card reminders for home address mailings; Newspaper articles (print and online) with link to the online survey(s); Social Media postings (schools, libraries, governments) with link to the online survey(s); and Emails to groups of residents (neighborhoods, home owners associations, etc.) with link to the online survey(s).
A sample residential survey from Connected Nation can be found here: http://connectmycommunity.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Sample-residential-survey_071318.pdf.