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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Giving People Voice, Improving Performance: New York City Should Implement Resident Satisfaction Surveys

Outreach to New Yorkers (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Mayor Adams, in launching the Dynamic Mayor’s Management report (DMMR) and the creation of a Chief Efficiency Officer, promises to “track how well we’re delivering services to New Yorkers and identifying areas where we need to improve.” The Chief Efficiency Officer is charged with developing updated performance measures to make the city more “efficient, transparent and accountable.”

Nowhere in the mayor’s April 6 statement announcing the DMMR nor in the Executive Order is there mention of the only data that measure the outcomes of city services rather than administrative inputs or outputs. Resident surveys provide a perspective on municipal services not available from other sources. As noted by the Controller’s Office for the City and County of San Francisco, “One of the most direct ways to measure the outcomes of the City’s effort – that is, the extent to which services are having their desired efforts – is to ask the users of those services.”

Use by U.S. Cities
San Francisco does it, Philadelphia does it, San Diego does it. Phoenix, Dallas, Austin, Portland, Ore., Kansas City, MO, Scottsdale, and Detroit also do it. But so do small cities, counties, and towns such as Southlake, TX (pop. 32,376), Glynn County, GA (pop. 84,500), Yountville township, CA (pop. 2,900). What they do is conduct comprehensive, uniform, recurring resident surveys as an integral feature of their performance assessment, operation, and reporting.

New York doesn’t.

Resident surveys are used widely by U.S. municipalities to evaluate the impacts and quality of their services. Among the top 10 most-populous U.S. cities in 2020, six survey their residents; the biggest four don’t.              

1. New York  No 
2. Los Angeles  No 
3. Chicago   No
4. Houston   No
5. Phoenix  Yes 
6. Philadelphia  Yes 
7. San Antonio   Yes 
8. San Diego  Yes 
9. Dallas  Yes 
10. San Jose  Yes 

Consensus on Value of Resident Surveys
A consensus exists among government officials, management experts, and program analysts that government services must be “customer driven.” Government organizations should pay attention to residents’ perceptions and assessments of the quality of the services they provide. According to the International City and County Managers Association, “The best way to encourage good performance is to measure it, and the best indicator of government performance is citizen satisfaction.”

And the Government Accounting Standards Board says: “It is important for reported performance to include measures of citizen and customer perceptions about the results of the service or program. Without this information against which to compare other, more quantitative measures of performance, a complete picture of results is not obtained.” 

Goals and Benefits of Resident Surveys
The principal goals of resident surveys are: increased resident participation, strengthened municipal management, and strengthened municipal policy-making.  

Resident surveys concentrate on the outcomes or the results of government services – how satisfied people are with their schools and parks; how safe they feel in their neighborhoods. Most administrative measures focus on inputs and outputs. While these are certainly important for internal accountability, public accountability – what the public really wants from government – centers on results. 

Additionally, resident surveys allow for the analysis of individual differences in how people use and experience city services – for example, differences by race, ethnicity, age, gender, income, and geography. Most administrative measures of service quality cannot identify who uses and how they are affected by the service.  

In a study of what people want from local government performance reporting, the Government Accounting Standards Board found that outcomes and resident perceptions were the performance measures of most interest to the general public. The New York City Independent Budget Office has recommended that the city “identify and report on results that matter to the public and reflect the way the public sees and uses city services.”

Giving Residents Voice
Rigorously constructed and conducted and appropriately analyzed surveys give residents “voice,” enhancing the quality of governance. Resident surveys are possibly the most efficient, if not the only, way to obtain information on:

  • constituents’ satisfaction with the quality of specific services and facilities, including the identification of problem areas;
  • facts such as the number and characteristics of users and non-users of various services (and the frequency and form of use);
  • reasons why specific services/facilities are disliked or not used;
  • community needs assessment, identification of high priority but inadequate community services, potential demands for new services;
  • residents’ opinions on various community issues, including feelings of confidence or trust toward government and specific agencies/officials;
  • residents’ assessments of real policy options — results provide guidance (but not mandates) for official action;
  • socio-economic and demographic data to complement/supplement other sources.

Resident Surveys and Policy
Resident surveys, as outcome data, can inform New York decision-makers and agency managers throughout the policy process:

  • Policy formulation: Help public officials to determine what residents need, want, prefer, or demand; help make choices, set priorities, change practices;
  • Policy implementation: Help public managers determine how best to deliver services. As long as respondents have some knowledge about an implementation issue, questions can concern projects, programs, procedures;
  • Policy evaluation: With service delivery, the consumer’s perception is the pertinent reality. Even the most efficient department is not doing its job well if residents are not satisfied with the various dimensions of department output – e.g. quality, timeliness, range, scope, accuracy, reliability, convenience, utility, prices.

Current Mayor’s Management Report
A common feature of reporting agencies in the February 2022 Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report is a section titled “Agency Customer Service.” Under the subheading “Customer Experience” are agency outputs, not customer outcomes.

A few agencies report some form of “customer satisfaction” but I have been unable to locate any discussion in the document or website of the universes sampled, sampling method, dates of conduct, method of contact, number of respondents contacted, question wording and order, or frequency of contact.

Douglas Muzzio is a professor of public affairs, Marxe School, Baruch College, CUNY.

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