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The Way in San Jose

by Brooke Myhre, Jul 24, 2006
 

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Taking the Public Pulse
--Gail Robinson
Beyond 311: Listening to New Yorkers
--Diana Fortuna
What Residents Can Tell Government
--Douglas Muzzio
The Web Site, 311, Surveys and Focus Groups
--Jeffrey Kay
Parents Grading Schools
--James Liebman

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San Jose is the third largest city in California, larger than San Francisco, larger than Oakland. We have a $2.7 billion combined budget, about 6,700 employees, 27 departments and offices, 10 council members elected by district and a mayor elected at large.

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We deliver services. We are not just a group of people who get together to drink coffee or stand around a hole in the street and take home nice salaries and good benefits.

The customers only see the results of what we do. They may see us standing around the hole, but then they have to drive across the field once the hole is filled in. That’s what most people see: how the hole is filled in, if the street is smooth or not.

Surveys are very different from normal ways that we receive information, policy desires and even service requests.

In the survey, many of the people who give us information are not registered voters or likely voters. They are probably not the people who show up at meetings. They are not the people who get together in a neighborhood association. Some of them are probably not even citizens. We actually don’t call it a citizen survey; we call it a community survey because almost half of the respondents in some of our neighborhoods are probably not citizens.

We do the survey every two years on the telephone in English, Spanish and Vietnamese. A hundred questions. That selects out certain people right there; you have to have 20 minutes to spend.

It covers issues. What’s the major issue for San Jose? What’s the condition of your neighborhood, what’s the condition of the streets?

Half of these questions relate directly to performance measures. Others are, “What do you see as the major issue? What would you like done?” That sort of thing. We ask if people volunteer and a bit about demographics. And finally we do a couple of research questions.

Our report is done by a survey consultant, who is a pollster. It is under the direction of the city manager. We feel, of course, that it is balanced, fair and honest.

The survey got us the first positive headline in a while on the front page of the Mercury News. It said that San Jose “was a good place to live.” Seventy-nine percent of the people thought the quality of life was good, up four percent since 2000. Seventy-six percent were satisfied with services. Eighty percent were happy with our employees.

A couple of survey questions that were new this year were surprises. We asked people “How do you want to get services or find information that’s not emergency in nature?” People want to call a person. They don’t want to go to a Web site, they don’t want to go to a call center. That surprised me because I think the 311 system is a great gateway and having a good Internet page will be a gateway of the future. But it’s clear that, even in the capital of Silicone Valley, we are not quite there.

We have learned some lessons. There are multiple voices in government. You don’t have just one customer who pays. You have customers who don’t even use the service, but who care as well.

Brooke Myhre is with the budget office of the City of San Jose, California.

 




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