This story appeared in some of the Observer’s regional sections on Sunday.
When the phone rings in April, if you’re lucky, you’ll be one of the 400 Mecklenburg County residents called upon to give your opinion about everything from elder care to the county commissioners’ television show.Every April for the past 32 years, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Annual Survey has been asking residents what they think on a variety of topics.If you passed by a car crash, would you stop to help? How often do you water your lawn in the summer? Do you have the money to buy a house today? Have you experienced a reptile bite in the last 12 months?The questions may seem random, but they’re actually carefully crafted to mine the kind of information each sponsoring organization desires.The survey is still a few months away, but its deadline for agencies interested in asking the questions is this month. Each question costs the agencies around $800 to $1,000.“It covers whatever the clients want to put on there,” said Bill McCoy, retired director of the Charlotte Urban Institute, which produces of the survey. “Everything you can think of.”“In the 1980s we were queasier about sensitive kinds of questions than perhaps we are now,” said McCoy. “There was a tendency to not want to ask about sexual activities, drug activities and that sort of thing. It seems the culture is more accepting of asking those questions and more willing to respond.”Most questions are designed to provide a specific organization with the research they need to make future decisions.“We might have a builder who is a client that wants to know economic questions, such as how are people feeling about the economy, or how do they feel about buying a house,” said McCoy.McCoy has seen the research make astounding differences within organizations. A dozen years ago, he said, Carolinas Medical Center used the survey to determine strategies for improving its public perception.“They used the data to judge and evaluate where they were, against their target,” said McCoy. “It was not the modern facility you see now.”Over the next few months, social research specialists at the institute, such as Eric Caratao, will work with clients to design questions specific enough to draw out the research sought.April will mark the survey’s 33rd effort, and Caratao said it’s unlikely the survey will cease anytime soon.“It’s a way for the university to help local nonprofits and local agencies obtain valuable results at a minimal cost.”