Saturday, 10 January 2015

District Council Leader's New Year message .................... and the "problem with the neutrality and reliability of those Viewpoint surveys"

The Leader of the District Council was keen to highlight the positive messages coming out of the 'Viewpoint Survey' of residents in his New Year's message:
5 January 2015 - Council leader sees positive days ahead - East Devon District Council

However, it is not simply that, when looking closely at the figures, there are questions as to how residents are actually 'satisfied':
Futures Forum: District Council Leader's New Year message ... "Our satisfaction ratings are the highest they have ever been with the exception of planning." ... "Patterns of local government should reflect England’s local identities and traditions."

More worryingly, perhaps, there are questions as to how the survey was conducted:

It appears that we may also have a problem with the neutrality and reliability of those Viewpoint surveys that a certain EDDC leader is keen to quote to assure us that all is well in his domain.

I had presumed, after the Exmouth Regeneration survey that was shown to be completely lacking in reliability, that EDDC might be employing impartial qualified research consultants – but it appears not- at least in the main. It isn’t as though they show much reserve in employing consultants is it?

Whilst some small improvements have been made, they now for example appear to understand the importance of how respondents are selected (something Richard Cohen completely failed to understand and provide for said Exmouth exercise) it seems that the rather important issue of what is asked is decided via “The Organisational Development Team worked with the Strategic Management Team to design the questionnaire and agree the questions.” (Clearly demonstrating the maxim ‘do not ask a question to which you do not have the answer’)

A clear request for “the fullest details of East Devon District Council’s Viewpoint Surveys – personal details of respondents excepted of course” has been predominently met with the all too familiar set of answers to different questions.

The hopes that EDDC might have actually started to deal properly with FOI questions, raised when I received a reply within 24 hours of making it, were quickly dashed by the content of that reply.

I have pointed out to EDDC that my questions were put to enable the validity of the surveys, or otherwise, to be demonstrated. Until such time as the FOI is answered properly I suggest the claims as to the public’s satisfaction with EDDC’s performance are treated with the greatest scepticism. If any of the Cabinet are setting the questions, with any of the senior EDDC officers, I think past experience suggests we can be confident that there will be a deficit of objectivity.

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