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Varied efforts to each out to residents via annual survey
The following explanation about the annual town survey was submitted by Juli Brazile, cochair of the standing committee of Envision Arlington, a group of volunteers who seek the best for the town.
The survey deadline is Saturday, Feb. 29. Take it at arlingtonma.gov/survey
Each year since 1991, critical input from town residents is obtained through the town’s annual survey, conducted by Envision Arlington (formerly Vision 2020) in collaboration with the Town of Arlington. Envision Arlington's mission is to foster an engaged, culturally diverse and civically active community, and the survey is an important tool for gathering information and opinions that help committees and department prioritize projects or adjust services.
A few years ago, the survey shifted from paper to online. Though more economical and efficient, this change also introduced a substantial risk that some residents would not participate online and responses wouldn't reflect as wide a range of residents.
Envision Arlington has explored various outreach methods to try to mitigate this concern. Volunteers who can assist residents who don't have computers and/or post fliers as reminders in local businesses and apartment buildings are the most popular suggestions. Everyone is welcome to share reminders with friends and neighbors, and in groups they know, that the survey is open until the end of February and that all residents are welcome to participate.
There is still the option to complete a paper copy, with data to be input manually by volunteers. However, for the past two surveys, many people took paper copies and did not return them, leading to concerns that enough would not be available for those needing a paper copy. Residents with feedback about the online or paper formats are encouraged to provide details on their experiences and preferences, so improvements can be made, including better ways to provide paper copies.
In response to feedback from the past few years, Envision Arlington made a major change this year to allow residents to take the survey as individuals, rather than as households. When, previously, a paper copy of the survey was mailed to each home with the town census, information was collected only at the household level. This prevented different residents in the same household from sharing different opinions. With the online format, this limitation no longer exists.
Other changes introduced this year include asking more detailed questions in the demographics section to gain more insight into how well survey respondents represent Arlington’s population. Some residents have commented that they find the demographic questions intrusive, but because the survey is anonymous this potentially valuable information can be collected without violating privacy.
With such demographics details, survey results can now be filtered so that, as examples, the analysis accounts for different responses given by renters compared with homeowners or by newer compared with longer-term residents. Also, future outreach efforts could be targeted to groups identified as being underrepresented among survey respondents.
The topics for the survey are chosen each year based on requests from specific committees or departments, with priority given to projects where public input is required to meet a mandate and/or for which data may impact a specific decision. The survey is also used to educate residents about programs and use feedback to adjust or expand to meet real needs.
The 2014 survey guided the decision to update Robbins Library operating hours to remain amenable to day shift workers by closing Thursday mornings while staying open in the evenings and maintaining summer and weekend hours. The 2018 survey informed residents about the benefits of trees, staff resources such as the Tree Warden, and the Community Tree Canopy Program, supporting a doubling of the number of street trees that the town will provide to residents on request.
The survey is available online at arlingtonma.gov/survey and paper copies are at the Robbin Library Reference Desk, the Fox Library, and in the lobby of the Senior Center (Maple Street entrance). Please complete it by the end of February to ensure that your voice, as an Arlington resident, is heard.
Information about Envision Arlington committees and meeting schedules can be found at arlingtonma.gov/envision on the town website and you can contact volunteers by emailing envision at town.arlington.ma.us or calling 781-316-3096 and leaving a message.
This is explanatory column was published Friday, Feb. 7, 2020.
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