Questions sought for Charlotte’s annual survey

33rd audit will elicit answers to various queries

12/18/2012 3:07 PM

12/18/2012 3:08 PM

This April, 400 Mecklenburg County residents will be called upon to give their 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 of a variety of topics.

If you passed by a car wreck, 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 for respondents, but the deadline for agencies interested in asking the questions is this month. Each question costs agencies around $800 to $1,000.

“It covers whatever the clients want to put on there,” said Bill McCoy, retired director of the Urban Institute at UNC Charlotte, the producer of the survey. “Everything you can think of.”

At one time or another, nearly 50 agencies have taken part in the survey, from the American Red Cross to the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library to the Catawba Valley Scottish Society at Rural Hill.

Many organizations return year after year for second helpings of answers.

McCoy, who now serves as a consultant for the institute, recalls when the questions were sketched out on spiral notebooks and asked by college students looking to make an extra buck.

Today, the surveyors are contracted, and the questions are embedded on flash drives.

Some may think the questions today are a little more liberated than their prudish predecessors.

“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 like Eric Caratao will work with clients to design questions specific enough to draw out the research sought.

April 2013 marks the survey’s 33rd year, 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,” he said.

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