Why survey?

February 5, 2011


We have received some questions about a telephone survey the City is planning to do. Some wonder why we need to pay for a professional, random survey.  Don’t we already know what people think, from being out in the community?

One reason is that people tend to talk to people who have views that are similar to their own and so from their perspective it’s easy to conclude that everyone thinks the same way. A survey conducted with rigorous scientific sampling can challenge our closely-held beliefs.

Surveys should inform politicians on how the public views various issues. It remains the role of politicians to make the final decision. Sometimes the decision will be in the direction of public opinion; sometimes it won’t. Leaders know when to go with public opinion and when to be out front. That is what it means to be a leader.

Here is some background on the survey methodology.

About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

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9 Comments on “Why survey?”

  1. Craig Chamberlain Says:

    I received a lot of input this past fall. I know most candidates knocked on a lot of doors in their respective wards, much more for most individually than the survey’s sample size for the entire city. It’s hard to get elected without knocking on doors, and getting into the community is an important aspect of why we have elections. I guess in the end the sentiment is, “Did we not just elect you? We did our job in tuning into the issues and by voting — were you not listening? Get on with it.”

    Respectfully, this is the form of leadership I am presently hearing people ask for, at least in early 2011.

    Thank you for the info regarding the methodology. I was glad to see the survey will be conducted in English and three other languages.

  2. Bill Hulet Says:


    I’ve been involved in politics for quite a few years and knocked on a great many doors myself. And one thing that I’ve learned is that people only very rarely tell you what they think. It’s kinda sad that in this age and time when science has totally changed every aspect of our lives that so many people don’t understand an elementary issue like the need to get objective data before you make a decision—–.

    One of the great things about our current Mayor is that she has a Phd. in Environmental Science, which means that she does know the difference between a fact and an opinion. This sets her apart from the overwhelming majority of politicians.

  3. Jim Grant Says:

    Karen – Once again, why is one of your supporters speaking for you. I thought this blog was a communication line from the residents of Guelph to you. If this is how this blog is going to be handled then there will be no point to further discussions here and once again we close the needed communication lines.

  4. Craig Chamberlain Says:

    Bill, for your consideration –

    You commented, “one thing that I’ve learned is that people only very rarely tell you what they think”. One response to that would be, “OK, then why are we spending money on this survey?”

    I imagine a pollster or marketer would say people will generally tell them what what they think should say… i.e. people are eating magnitudes more broccoli than is actually produced on the planet . Yes, people decide what they will reveal but a face to face conversation is always best in my opinion, and we should have a lot of that from the recent election. As for the use of statistical data to inform public policy — I’m all for that, and that data is already in the community thanks to the work of a lot of people at our non-profits, social agencies, etc., etc.

    I think the timing for this survey is misplaced. It would have been better to say to the public in January 2012 or 2013, “Thank you for the trust you put in us. We rolled up our sleeves and this is what we accomplished. Now we want to know a couple of things — how did we do, and where do you want the focus to be for the rest of our term?”

  5. Jim Grant Says:

    Karen – I am sorry but this Bill Hulet has degraded this blog to a point that trying to obtain meaningful dialogue with your office is not possible. I don’t think this is your desire, but with people like this, this is the result.

  6. Craig Chamberlain Says:

    Mayor Farbridge – thanks for bringing this subject forward in your blog; please consider my comments above.

  7. Terry Says:

    “a review of government polling contracts shows the Conservative government has given Graves and his firm EKOS millions of dollars in contracts over the past five years.” Toronto Sun February 11, 2011

    Conservatives love to survey. All federal policy is based on polling (ie long gun registry, long form census, tough on crime bill).

    They’ve even had 3 elections in the last 5 years to gage the mood of citizens.

  8. kfarbridge Says:


    Jim – People have a right to their opinion whether they voted for me or not. However, two of the postings from Bill have crossed the line and they have been “unapproved”. I apologize for these getting approved in the first place.

    Bill – If there are any comments in your two posting that you would like to re-submit, please do.

    I will remind all participants to focus on the issues not on the motives of others who are participating or passing judgment on them.

    Craig – I have read your comments and thank you for participating. We may have to agree to disagree with respect to the timing of the survey. This type of survey work is traditionally done at the beginning of a planning exercise. The City has used this tool extensively in the past e.g. growth strategy, transit growth strategy, water master plan, communications strategy. The results provide you important directional information. If there is the money, a fulsome process would then follow with focus groups (the important face to face interaction you note in your post). In this case, we do have the recent community dialogue from the election. Once Council has developed the strategic plan for the term, it will be important for us to do two things: validate it with the community and subsquently report back on our performance. We did both last term.

  9. Jim Grant Says:

    Karen – Thank you for the consideration. It is muchly appreciated. I have now listened to many comments regarding this survey and am not apposed to the same. My personal wish is that they didn’t cost so much as the money could certainly be put to good use elsewhere.

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