When’s the last time anyone in city government asked you what you think of their performance? Or for your suggestions on how they could do better?
If you’re like most Philadelphians, it’s probably been….well, never. After all, it often feels like the only time our city officials care about what we think is when we’re in the midst of an election—and only then on the rare occasion that there’s an actual contested race.
But with the help of Temple University’s Institute for Survey Research, the Kenney administration has started to ask just these sorts of questions of its customers—all of us—with the intention, the administration says, of improving customer service in city government.
First, in the spring, the Streets Department commissioned a poll from ISR’s BeHeardPhilly on what Philadelphians know about traffic laws in the city. That information will inform an outreach campaign to, as the department put it when commissioning the study, “make Philadelphia a more walkable, bikeable, driveable city that is accessible and safe for all road users.”
Now, The Citizen and BeHeardPhilly are launching a new survey to gauge how much Philadelphians know and care about poverty in the city.
This month, the Water Department is including an insert into every water bill telling customers how to take a poll about its services. That survey, available at phlwatersurvey.com and later through BeHeardPhilly, will ask customers to rank their satisfaction in issues ranging from how good the water tastes, to how easy it is to pay their bill, to how well PWD’s customer service department answers questions. The results will then be used to inform changes to the way the department serves its customers.
And starting this summer, a new city agency—the Mayor’s Office for Performance Management—will put out a Citizen Satisfaction Survey, asking Philadelphians to rate an assortment of city services, across several departments, and suggest ways to make improvements. This wide-ranging poll will serve as a baseline from which the Kenney administration will determine how well it’s doing with the people who matter most—citizens. “It’s a full frontal approach to engaging citizens and getting feedback,” says Liza Rodriguez, director of the Office for Performance Management. “We’re trying to get an overall sense of what’s important to citizens on various measures, and to really connect with them.”
The survey, and the work of Performance Management, is part of a national movement to make more and better data-based decisions. (Mayor Nutter did a version of this, with PhillyStat.) Since the start of Kenney’s term, Rodriguez’s department has been working with city departments to set performance goals—picking up a certain percentage of trash on time, for example; it will then collect data to determine how close they are to meeting those goals. Customer satisfaction is one factor that will go in to judging success. Rodriguez says this year’s broad survey will be followed by small focus groups, also run by ISR, that dive deeper into issues, and that the city will conduct a new satisfaction survey each year to gauge how well it’s doing. Performance Management will also eventually have a website that allows citizens to search by department, to see how close they are to meeting their goals. (Rodriguez says Baltimore has a similar model in place already that includes the results of customer feedback surveys.)
The ability to collect quick and widespread citizen opinion is the beauty of BeHeardPhilly, an ambitious polling project that aims to enlist 10,000 Philadelphians, from every demographic, to participate in surveys several times a year through email, text or phone. The city’s partnership with BeHeardPhilly fits precisely the goal of the project—not just to capture the mood of citizens, but to enable change.
“This is not research for the sake of research,” says Nina Hoe, BeHeardPhilly study director. “The point of BeHeardPhilly is to make Philadelphia a better place to live. We want to give officials the information to make that happen.”
So far, BeHeardPhilly has conducted a handful of polls, including—with The Citizen and several other partners–a soda tax survey that showed overwhelming support for Mayor Kenney’s proposal. (At least when citizens thought the money was going to fund universal pre-K.) Now, The Citizen and BeHeardPhilly are launching a new survey to gauge how much Philadelphians know and care about poverty in the city. If you have already signed up for BeHeardPhilly, watch for the poll in your inbox. If not, sign up here to be heard on this, and on other issues facing the city.
Will any of this make a difference to the everyday lives of Philadelphians? It’s hard to say. But it’s even harder to make changes if you don’t first know what needs changing.
“It’s so cool that our city is taking this on,” says Hoe. “Not every city cares enough to ask their residents what they think. Let’s help them out by answering their questions.”Photo header: Rian Watkin/BeHeardPhilly