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The Czar's flawed approach to government surveys | Letters
I was delighted to see Matthew Jarvis's column encouraging greater participation by citizens in local government, schools and utilities in last Friday's Federal Way Mirror. His proposed approach was through surveys — and while initially this approach seems appealing, it does have some flaws.
First — we already have multiple easy ways of citizens putting views to government. For example, all citizens can attend and speak at city council meetings. Matthew is aware of this, since he attended and spoke at the Federal Way City Council meeting the evening before his column was published. Oddly, he makes no mention of this open channel to expressing our views.
Further, email addresses and phone numbers for the mayor, city council members and staff are available through the city's website — and similar access is available for the school district and other public entities. In contrast, for private companies it is often difficult or impossible to find email addresses for the CEO, board members or staff.
Second — surveys are costly to run, typically have very low response rates, and then must be followed up if to be respected. There is a cost to all of this, more so in Federal Way where our diversity will probably require us to produce surveys in multiple languages. While Matthew preaches efficient government, he makes no mention of how these costs should be funded — extra taxes or reducing services like police perhaps?
Third — surveys done by private sector organizations are not quite the palliative he suggests. Very infrequently, I see feedback and changes to practice. More often the survey is a marketing ploy to make consumers feel they are being listened to, or to find consumer contact details so that they can be contacted with future offers. As with government, much the best way of registering concerns and achieving change is to do it in person in a timely manner. There is little point about complaining about the bad bed in a hotel two weeks after the visit — complain while there, and often the room is changed.
So, all credit to Matthew for raising the issue that our public representatives and staff need more feedback from citizens. However, let's encourage more use of the channels that already exist rather than creating more work and cost for government.
Graham Evans, Federal Way
Note: Evans is CEO of Cascadia MedTech and CEO of Cascadia Velocity based in Federal Way.