Survey methodology FAQs

Rachel Levenstein
Rachel Levenstein
  • Updated

General Survey FAQs

Zencity is the community trust platform purpose-built for local governments. By putting comprehensive community input tools and sentiment analytics at their fingertips, we empower city, county, and law enforcement leaders—and their teams—to make data-driven decisions that earn residents’ trust.

In just a few minutes, city residents can help local leaders know what they think and how they feel. Here we answer a number of frequently asked questions about our surveys in general. We also provide answers to frequently asked questions about our other surveys: Community Surveys, Blockwise, and Pulses.

What kinds of surveys does Zencity administer?

Zencity conducts four types of surveys. Click on each survey below to obtain more information about them.

  • Community Surveys questions about residents’ quality of life and satisfaction with characteristics of their community.
  • Blockwise measures the public’s perception of safety and trust in law enforcement.
  • Pulses are fully customizable surveys conducted on an ad hoc basis. 
  • Engage surveys are quick, customizable surveys that are not representative with respect to residents’ demographics and are distributed by the client through the Engage platform. 

How does Zencity recruit survey respondents?

Zencity recruits survey respondents where the vast majority of residents can be most readily reached: on any digital device. Respondents are recruited on various digital platforms via any device they might be using, such as smartphones, tablets, or desktops, and the sites they visit every day. With the help of targeted ads on social media, mobile apps, and survey panels, Zencity assembles a representative sample of the local community and ensures that all voices, especially those who might not be included in traditional survey formats, are heard. 

Zencity chose this distribution method for its ability to collect a large sample of diverse backgrounds quickly; according to a 2021 study by the Pew Research Center, 93% of adults in the United States use the internet, positioning it as a modern “public square” for reaching and hearing from a wide variety of voices. The same research shows just how widespread Internet adoption is across characteristics like race, gender, and community type, as well as hard to reach groups, like younger people.

In addition, Zencity can also provide scannable QR codes or shareable links for your organization to use in campaigns on social media, newsletters, and other outlets. Regardless of whether a resident accesses the survey this way or is recruited through a digital ad sponsored by Zencity, both eliminate the need to download an app or create an account on another site, minimizing a common barrier to participation. 

Can you really get enough sample from older residents?

Yes! Although internet usage is lower among adults over the age of 65, many are indeed online. To ensure that we were hearing from these individuals, we checked representation by age. We found--consistently--that residents over the age of 65 were responding at a representative level. For example, if 12% of the population is over the age of 65, 11-13% of of the sample we acquired were over the age of 65. We found that this is consistent across dozens of clients in the United States and the UK and across hundreds of survey implementations. 

How do you make sure the sample is representative of the community?

During data collection.​ Zencity uses estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau to set response targets for each geographic area based on race/ethnicity, age, and gender.

Based on self-reported demographic data collected in the survey, Zencity tracks the demographic representativeness of the responses received in real time and adjusts the advertising strategy to obtain a sample that matches the demographics of the geographic area being measured. Survey responses are kept confidential and stored in a secure, encrypted database.

​Zencity aims to ensure broad representativeness in terms of demographics and perceptions. The advertisements, designs, images, or videos that potential respondents are shown are generic and do not mention issues likely to bias certain types of individuals to take or decline to take a survey; instead, for example, an ad may announce: “We have an important new study for [community] residents.” Only after clicking into a survey and seeing the questions will a respondent see the specific topics the survey covers. In addition, all survey requests come from Zencity rather than a client’s social media account to help minimize bias from individuals who happen to follow those accounts. 

Zencity’s adherence to best practices and continual attention to bias reduction has resulted in digital surveys with coverage of the actual community that is as good, if not better than, traditional surveys.        

Adjustments after data collection.  After data collection, we remove ineligible respondents: those who identify as being underage and respondents who provide invalid zip codes or report zip codes outside the city limits.

After removing ineligible responses, Zencity uses an industry-standard statistical technique called rake weighting (also known as “rim weighting” or “iterative proportional fitting”). Under this approach, each respondent receives a unique weight based on their various demographic characteristics (age, gender, and race), so that the distribution of each of these characteristics in the final weighted sample is the same as in the community as a whole.

How do you make sure respondents are actually residents?

First, we target our ads to residents. For social media ads, we use users’ metadata to understand who is likely to be a resident. Respondents in panels self report and are verified as residents by the panels. We also ask respondents to provide their zip code or postcode. Only respondents who provide a local zip code or postcode are counted as residents. Responses from people outside the city are filtered out.

How do residents take the survey?

When a resident visits, scrolls, or browses a website or opens a mobile app, they will see an ad inviting them to answer a short survey about their city in the places on the screen where they are already accustomed to receiving ads. 

The ads are delivered in a variety of languages, depending on the language of the device. The surveys are offered in languages determined by each client. 

Alternatively, residents can also access the survey through a scannable QR code or shareable link that the client can publicize across their own social media pages, website, newsletter, etc..  These responses will be analyzed separately to minimize bias. 

Once residents click on an ad, they are quickly redirected to the short questionnaire. 

How does Zencity ensure that each response is unique?

We use a professional visitor identification service called Fingerprint Pro that identifies devices using large amounts of auxiliary data (IP addresses, time of visit patterns, URL changes, etc.). By using these digital fingerprints, we can reliably identify respondents who are using the same device. Zencity only saves the fingerprint 'serial number' data; no IP address or any other personally-identifying information is saved. 

How does Zencity ensure anonymity and protect privacy?

We take protecting privacy and ensuring respondent confidentiality seriously. All survey responses are completely confidential, and we do not collect any personal information that could identify a specific respondent (except, where applicable, an email address, for those that opt in to participate in similar surveys in the future).  For respondents who opt-in to future research, email addresses are not stored with survey responses and are not linked to their responses in any way. We only collect the survey question responses that are provided, along with anonymous metadata, which we use to remove duplicate submissions.

Community Surveys

How does Zencity measure resident satisfaction?

The main metric of the Community Survey is overall resident satisfaction. This score is calculated from the questions in the two main sections of the survey: general quality of life and satisfaction with different characteristics of life in your community. In our dashboard and reports, we present a score at the question level as well as for groupings of questions for quality of life and community characteristics. 

Quality of life. Questions from the quality of life section include both closed- and open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions are rated on a numeric scale (1-5):

  1. How is the overall quality of life in your city? (1=Poor, 5=Excellent)
  2. How likely are you to recommend your city as a place to live? (1=Very Unlikely, 5=Very Likely)
  3. How likely are you to be living in your city 5 years from now? (1=Very Unlikely, 5=Very Likely)

Community characteristics. Questions from the section on different characteristics of life in your community are all closed-ended questions, rated on a scale of 1 (Poor) to 5 (Excellent). Community characteristics that these questions may cover include:

  1. Ease of getting around by public transportation.
  2. Overall cleanliness and maintenance.
  3. Sense of community among residents.

Clients can choose up to 16 characteristics, depending on what is most appropriate and relevant to the community. 

Scoring. We first calculate the Quality of Life score and the Community Characteristics score, which are the average of the items for each of those sections, Then, we take the average of the two scores and categorize that average as positive, neutral, or negative:

  • ≤1.5 = “negative”
  • >1.5 and ≤3 = “neutral”
  • >3 = “positive”

The Satisfaction Score is the weighted percentage of valid responses categorized as positive. “Valid” responses are those that are nonmissing.

How often do you collect data and provide results?

Community Survey data collection occurs in cycles, beginning with data collection and ending with reporting. The reporting phase includes a PDF report presented to clients as well as an interactive dashboard, which becomes available immediately after data collection concludes.  

We offer three different cadences:

  1. Annual: Clients receive one Community Survey report per year. Usually we conclude data collection 4-5 months after the questionnaire is approved.
  2. Semi-annual: Clients receive two reports per year, every six months.
  3. Quarterly: Clients receive four reports per year, every three months. 

How many people will fill out the survey each cycle? 

In order to provide a large enough sample size to get usable data while still minimizing the burden on residents to participate, we set sample targets by both population size and cadence:

Population Size Annual Semi- annual Quarterly
20-50k 400 400 n/a
50-100k 400 400 400
100-150k 600 500 400
150-250k 600 600 600
250-500k 600 800 800
500k-1 mil. 600 1500 1000
1 mil.+ n/a 1500 1000

 

How quickly can I get my results back?

The Community Survey dashboard is available immediately after the cycle ends. We typically present reports and submit the PDFs to clients within the first few weeks after the cycle ends. 

Can I compare my community’s result to some benchmark?

Yes. We provide a benchmark report showing how your results compared to the U.S. as well as a cohort of similar localities. These benchmarks are updated twice per year.

 

Blockwise

How are the Blockwise scores calculated?

Blockwise scores consist of question scores and measure scores. Question scores are calculated as the percent of responses that are positive. Take, for example, the following question:

To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement? In general, the police in my area treat everyone fairly regardless of who they are. 

  1. Strongly disagree
  2. Disagree
  3. Neither agree nor disagree
  4. Agree
  5. Strongly agree

The question score is the percent of respondents who agree or strongly agree with this statement. 

We then group questions into five different “measures”: Safety, Fairness, Respect, and Voice. We score each of these measures as the average of the question scores. 

How often does the Blockwise dashboard update? 

The scores on the dashboard are updated according to the agreed upon cadence  (typically monthly or quarterly). Open text feedback from residents is updated on an ongoing basis once the submission is received.

 

Pulses

What is a Pulse Survey?

Pulses are completely customizable, representative surveys on a topic or topics of interest.

How do they work?

Pulse surveys are conducted by Zencity on behalf of our clients. We design the questionnaire, working closely with our clients to ensure we measure what the client is interested in. After the questionnaire is approved by the client, Zencity will collect the data and ensure the sample is representative with respect to local demographics (click here for more information about representation). After data collection is complete, Zencity’s survey experts then quickly analyze the data and present them to key stakeholders. 

How quickly can I get my results back?

Once a questionnaire is approved by the client, we start data collection immediately and can typically return a report to you within two months. 

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