WORCESTER – A government survey issued by the City of Worcester and developed by Cobalt Community Research to gather input from residents on city operations was delivered to an eight-year-old Worcester resident.
The survey, the 2017 City of Worcester Strategic Engagement & Priority Study, is made up of 36 questions aimed at gathering responses from city residents on issues such as police, fire and emergency responses, the local public school system, transportation infrastructure, taxes, the city’s economic health and a slew of other issues designed to get input from registered voters and residents with an understanding of how the city works.
ThisWeekinWorcester.com reporter Nick D’Andrea’s eight-year-old daughter received the survey in the mail late last week.
“My initial response was this couldn’t be what I thought it was. When I opened up the letter and saw that they had sent the survey to my eight-year-old daughter, I started to get angry,” D’Andrea said.
“What list could the city use that would pull an eight year old as a recipient? I would like to know how many other children received this letter. That is the most concerning part of this whole thing. How many children were exposed to this research company and what do they plan to do with that list after this study is done,” he added.
According to Eric D. Batista, Chief of Operations and Project Management for City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr.’s office, the City knew there was a chance that children and people under the voting age would receive the survey.
“On the survey that was sent out to the people in Worcester, we took the census data. We wanted to get as much diversity in terms of the people we sent it out too. We knew that some of the individuals in the survey were going to be children because they’re part of the census data,” Batista said in an interview on Monday, Nov. 20.
“It was a survey on strategic engagement and priority. [The City] did not need to use the census data for it. A simple voter list would have sufficed,” D’Andrea said. “I sat down with my daughter and we read the questions. She didn’t understand half the words being used.”
According to Batista, 4,000 surveys were mailed out on Thursday, Nov. 16 to people between the ages of eight and — startlingly — 195. As of Friday, the city had received between 280 to 300 completed surveys online.
“We’re working on multiple avenues to be able to do this. One we chose was that we sent out a survey to registered voters to use a code online. We’re doing four to five focus groups and other surveys — each with their own code — as well. We still haven’t done the focus groups yet. We’re hoping to get a significant response from people in the community,” Batista said, adding that the focus groups would happen before the end of the year.
When asked what kind of response to the survey that the city was hoping for from children, Batista said, “When the sample was selected from the census data, it wasn’t disseminated and looked at specifically for ages. It was an exact, raw sample from the census data and that was the sample the survey was mailed out to.”
“We hope that the parents or a family member would help fill the survey out with the child,” Batista added. “Our consultant [Colbalt] was not going to go through each individual raw data to select the ones of voting age. They said they were going to select a sample from the census data and send them out.”
Batista said that the survey is available online, was passed out at some polling locations during this month’s municipal elections, and can be picked up at Worcester’s city hall and public library.
When asked if children being the recipients of the survey hurts the amount of responses the city gets back, Batista said it wasn’t much of a concern.
“We don’t think so. We’re using a lot of different avenues to get answers to this survey. Just this sample alone wasn’t going to be the only avenue for us to get community input.We’re trying to find a lot of ways for people to communicate and engage in this process, rather than just one sample in itself. We’re not too worried about the answers which may or may not be skewed by individuals that can’t or won’t respond to it,” Batista said.
There’s no set goal in mind for how many responses the City hopes to get, but are aiming high for at least a ten percent return rate.
Batista said, “We know ten percent is a high number. We researched other cities that have done similar surveys and what we got back was the average response is around three to five percent.”