Surveys are just one input

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* Update*  Since writing this post, the City has responded to an inquiry about the OCP Update survey. I shared that response in another blog post https://davethompsonvictoria.ca/more-on-ocp-update-survey/.

That response also mentions another, interesting engagement method – the Places and Spaces Ideas Workshop – a “collaborative planning session with community members, planners and urban design professionals to brainstorm the future of building design, public spaces and community connection.” It sounds like it’s very popular, with uptake exceeding initial seating capacity (and possibly more events to be held). https://engage.victoria.ca/places-spaces.

Since before the 2022 election, I’ve had people reach out to me about City surveys – and most recently the City’s Official Community Plan (OCP) Update survey.

As with other surveys, some like the OCP survey, and some don’t.*

Either way, the TL;DR on the survey – like many other online surveys – is this:

  1. It’s just one part of a much larger engagement process.
  2. It’s not going to be decisive.

City staff are using a variety of different methods to engage residents and businesses on the OCP update. The survey is only one piece. There are also open houses (I attended the one on April 6, and it was busy and exciting, with free-flowing conversation on a wide range of topics), online information sessions, pop-up meetings, and outreach to community associations like DRA and other organizations.

Of course, residents and businesses can also communicate any and all of their ideas directly with the City by emailing ocp@victoria.ca.

Long before the formal engagement period, I started encouraging people and organizations to develop and provide their input on the City’s OCP Update. The Downtown Residents Association held an engagement event of their own in January.

 

It was a well-organized event, and well attended. Breakout groups discussed their priorities, which were gathered on flipcharts. The DRA also ran their own online survey. I’m looking forward to seeing all their input.

In addition to engaging with City staff directly, and indirectly through various organizations, residents and businesses can also communicate with any or all nine Council members – by email, phone, letter, and in-person meetings. And of course Council will also be holding a public hearing (though public hearings tend to be a quite formal and limited type of engagement).

So the survey needs to be seen in that context. It’s not the be-all and end-all of public engagement. It’s just one part.

On to the survey itself.

The survey will collect people’s ideas and that will be useful input.

However, the survey is not collecting a representative sample, but rather a self-selected sample: whoever wants to fill it out can do so. This is often the case for online surveys; anyone can fill them out, and the results will reflect the views of the people who do.

As such, online surveys are not an accurate gauge of what the “average person” or the public thinks. (Of course, there is no “average person” and no “public thinks”; there is instead a wide range of very different views on every subject.)

In my analysis of the various inputs to the OCP Update, and in my votes, I won’t be relying excessively on the survey. I don’t speak for the City, staff, or other Council members, but I expect they will all be considering the OCP survey for what it is, and within the wider range of inputs to the OCP update engagement process.

By the way, the City rarely does surveys that collect representative samples, due to the high costs of doing so. The 2022 MNP Report survey was another example of an online survey that relied on people self-selecting to complete it, and did not collect a representative sample. The 2024 budget survey, in contrast, did collect a representative sample.

In any event, online surveys are a low-cost way of collecting information. The City and others will continue to use them. And we are well aware of their limitations.

*  Sometimes this like-the-survey / don’t-like-the-survey feeling results from the topic that the survey is seeking input on. In the case of the OCP, the survey seeks input on how the City is going to change in coming years and decades – most notably in the approval of a lot more homes. Our statistically valid budget survey results are clear; we asked the people of Victoria where the City should spend its money, and “Making it easier to build all types of housing, across the city, for everyone” was the #1 response.

Victoria’s existing housing deficit is around 8,000 homes, and our population keeps growing (people have a Constitutional right to move here). Also, like other cities, Victoria has provincially legislated targets for adding more homes, as well as needing to report to the federal government on our progress under the Housing Accelerator Fund. The OCP update will not be considering whether we add a lot more homes, but rather how and where. Hence the OCP survey is also focussed on that topic, rather than whether we continue with the status quo.