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Illinois Parks & Recreation
November / December 1995 • Volume 26, Number 6

Surveys Are Great Listening Devices
by Barbara Eaton, CLP

In light of the growing dissatisfaction with taxes and taxing bodies in general, and considering that competition from private sources is constantly growing, it makes good financial sense to find out if we are giving our public what it wants. This information will not come to us in a dream nor as the result of talking to ourselves. It will be gained only by listening to what our customers say to us and about us. We must find out what our customers want and give it to them. It's as simple; and as complicated, as that

Surveys are an established means for gathering this information. Now, more than ever, surveys are a vital tool in planning and marketing for park districts.

In a recent mail survey of Wheaton Park District residents conducted by staff of National-Louis University, 1,354 residents shared their opinions and suggestions about the park district.

Five thousand surveys were mailed out late last year to sample size of approximately twenty-three percent of the 22,000 households to which park district program brochures are mailed. Using guidelines established in national survey research methods, we anticipated that a response rate of about ten percent of the sample would be acceptable.

"Imagine our surprise when our total return was 1,354 surveys or twenty-seven percent," said Robert Dunsmuir, director of the Wheaton Park District. 'It is extremely positive to know that such a large percentage of our residents felt it important to take the time to complete the survey. We are very grateful to everyone who replied."

"Attitudes in this very church-oriented community have changed and residents now want programming on Sundays. Only through a survey could we have gained this valuable information."
—Robert Dunsmuir, CLP Director of Wheaton Park District

This response pointed out an additional and important benefit. Of course, we received answers to questions about our programs and facilities. The bonus was that we know by the number of responses just how interested our residents were in talking about our programs and facilities, which could also indicate the importance of the park district in their lives.

We drew the survey sample from the park district area which we divided into fourteen neighborhoods. We used the most recent available county voter list as a base for the sample, and we randomly selected names to proportionately represent the neighborhoods. This random sample made it possible to elicit information from persons who might not be participating in Wheaton Park District programs.

A mailing service was engaged to fold and stuff the survey, the cover letter, and a stamped envelope, and to affix mailing labels. A self-addressed postage prepaid envelope was enclosed for ease of return. Completed surveys were returned to the park district where they were held unopened for periodic

Illinois Parks &8 Recreation • November/December 1995 • 47

collection by representatives from National-Louis University.

The compilation and analysis of the survey replies took several weeks, and last month representatives of National-Louis University presented the results to the board of commissioners of the Wheaton Park District.

The survey contained twenty-seven questions. Some asked for statistical information such as length of residency, gender and age of the respondent, household composition broken down by number of individuals and their ages, and residency broken down by neighborhood. The answers to these questions will be helpful in park planning by neighborhood.

Apparently our public information program is working. Almost all (92 percent) of those who participated in the survey said they receive information about park district programs and facilities from the quarterly program brochures which are mailed to their homes.

In general, we gained the information we were after about programming, fees, facility usage, value received for tax dollars and suggestions for the future. There was also a surprise for us: attitudes in this very church-oriented community have changed and residents now want programming on Sundays. Only through a survey could we have gained this valuable information.

Our next challenge is to make use of all this information, implementing it to give our customers what they want. We have the basis for a strong future. Now we must build on it.

Barbara Eaton, CUP, is the public information coordinator for the Wheaton Park District.

Originally published in Get the Message newsletter and reprinted with permission of the IPRA Communications and Marketing Committee.

Listening Device Inserted in this Issue
The special insert (or listening device) in this issues is the IAPD/IPRA Readership Survey. Turn to the back of the magazine and please take a few minutes to share your view on Illinois Parks & Recreation magazine, Leisure review newsletter and other field publications like Get the Message.

48 * Illinois Parks & Recreation * November/December 1995

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