Monday, September 25, 2017

Citizens weigh in on the community

When you want to learn about the perceptions and values found within a community, from what is working to what can be improved upon, you go straight to the citizens themselves.

That’s the goal with the Sangamon County Citizen Survey, which was recently updated and released for the third time in five years.

The extensive survey started as a joint project between the Community Foundation for the Land of Lincoln, the Citizens Club of Springfield, the University of Illinois Springfield’s Center for State Policy and Leadership and the United Way of Central Illinois to gather data about the community’s education, economy, well-being and more.

The project currently measures eight different indicators, including health, economy, education, culture and recreation, government and civic participation, social well-being and public safety, environment and infrastructure.

This year’s survey asked many of the same questions as previous surveys, said Matt Case, interim director for the Survey Research Office at the University of Illinois Springfield — although there was a focus on education in 2015 and economy and infrastructure in 2017.

“We ask the same questions each year because this allows us to track changes over time, which is important considering the data is being used to address issues locally,” he said.

The survey has now become a reference point to guide leaders on current issues, as well as a learning tool to equip the community with comprehensive data for future decision making. From the Community Foundation’s vantage point, the survey is being utilized to understand various community needs as it pertains to grantmaking and innovation.

Several trends that emerged this year intrigued Case and fellow survey coordinators, including local economics.

“I was surprised by the discrepancy in the way individuals viewed local business conditions versus how they viewed their personal financial situation,” he noted. “Just 20 percent of respondents say they are ‘worse off’ financially compared to 12 months ago,′ but 46 percent say that local business conditions are ‘worse off’ compared to 12 months ago.′ “To me this says that individuals, while not necessarily affected by recent events such as the state budget impasse themselves, do view the local economy as being affected.”

Looking ahead, the Citizen Survey provides local leaders and organizations like the Community Foundation with a starting point to work toward potential solutions for concerns or problems.

“I hope that community leaders will use the data to help develop programs to address these issues. I believe the quality of the data is excellent, and I think that the results should be used to look at how programs are developed locally,” Case said.

This story appeared in The State Journal-Register on September 23, 2017.

Read the entire article online.