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RA Survey Asks a Wide Variety of Questions

Community survey for selected Reston Association members looks beyond RA services at overall picture of life in Reston.

About 3,000 Reston Association households randomly selected for RA's comprehensive community survey should have received their mailings by now.

RA is conducting the survey to "help the association and its Board of Directors better set benchmarks for tracking the quality of services provided to residents," the survey materials say.

The cost of the survey was part of the Reston Association's 2012-2013 biennial budget.  Reston Association budgeted $26,000 to cover survey costs. The association hopes to conduct a survey every three to five years to keep up with Reston's rapid growth and change, said RA CEO Milton Matthews.

The six-page survey asks a variety of questions related to overall life in Reston. Some of the areas residents are asked to rate are well outside of RA's scope of responsibiilty, however.

For example, the survey asks how residents feel about the quality of utility companies, bus service, traffic signal timing and snow removal. It also asks how often you communicate with your neighbors, your commuting methods,and how often you are involved with civic activities such as visiting the library, recycling or participating in religious activities.

Also asked: "How safe or unsafe do you feel from violent crime or property crime in Reston?" "What impact, if any, do you think the economy will have on you family income in the next six months?" and "Please indicate how much of each type of development (housing; small shops and businesses; large stores and office buildings; and manufacturing and warehouses) you would like to see in Reston in the next 20 years, as population grows.

The bulk of the survey does concentrate on RA services, though. Among the questions:

* Please rate the following categories of Reston Association performance (value of servies for the assessment paid; overall direction that Reston is taking; the job Reston Association does at welcoming involvement).

* How important, if at all are each of the following ideas towards making Reston a great place to live for you and future generations? (some of the selections - preserving open land; making the community more walkable; Enhancing public spaces, parks and trails; keeping a mix of all housing types).

* In the last 12 months, how many times have you or a household member participated in the following activities in Reston? (Some of the selections: visited a Reston park; Read RA news (email); Read RA magazine; Watched videos on RA's YouTube Channel; Used social media; attended an RA sponsored event).

* Please rate each of the following aspects of quality of life in Reston (some of the selections: Reston as a place to live; Reston as a place to raise children; Reston as a place to work; Reston as a place to retire; Reston as a place to get involved).

A complete copy of the survey is in the PDF attached to this story.

Have any opinions on some of these questions? Tell us in the comments. While it won't be counted as official survey answers, Patch is sure RA staff would still like the feedback.

Olga Bogatyrenko January 19, 2013 at 02:07 PM
I appreciate the effort by the RA to put the survey together and what it's trying to achieve, however, after seeing the questions, I believe that the some of the survey's questions are not formulated in a way to provide an adequate measurement of whatever they are intended to measure. Whoever wrote the survey questions did not do a good job. Many questions are misleading or are not constructed in an adequate way. I have a PhD and one of my specialties is survey methodology, so I have a professional background to back this statement.
Lilguy January 19, 2013 at 02:14 PM
The "random" selection of 3,000 households to answer this questionnaire denies the rest of Reston's residents the opportunity to provide their views on the issues mentioned above--and hopefully others that are more important. While the survey may weed out the loud voices of community activists for indoor tennis, no smoking on paths, lower or higher assessment fees, stricter or more lenient design standards or covenants enforcement, and the like, it also "weeds out" the views of at least 85% of its constituency. Even so, the survey will likely generate a response rate of ten percent more or less--some 300 respondents. That suggests that RA's leadership will make important decisions based on the input of less than two percent of its residents. And they haven't even shared the substance full survey with the community! They haven't even IDENTIFIED the company conducting the survey. Yet, the RA website says, "The Reston Association Board of Directors will use the data from the survey to help set priorities for both the budget and the community in the coming years." Talk about government behind closed doors. Are you willing to take a chance basing Reston's future on what 300 or so of your Reston neighbors have to say on questions that have not been publicly disclosed in a survey conducted by an unidentified firm? This appears to be some box-checking exercise by RA's Board to say they have listened to the community. Well, they haven't and they aren't.
Java Master January 19, 2013 at 04:36 PM
Not certain whether this is just another meaningless exercise, since I wasn't among the lucky 3,000 chosen to respond, but my neighbor was, and he had tossed it into the circular file along with his usual assortment of junk mail and so forth, until his daughter fished it out of the trash--now she (16 years old) says she will fill it out, thereby being the voice of our neighborhood. Amazing. It's not that I cannot trust this darling teenager to diligently complete the task, but c'mon RA, you have to do better than this! [Incidentally, she is also the one who fllls out those lengthy questionaires for Washington Consumer Checkbook for her household. I can only wish her parents were as engaged and diligent.] Why don't you give more of us one of these surveys and at least try to get a more representative sample of households filled out by the folks who actually pay those mortgages, property taxes, rent statements and RA assessments?
Joe C. January 19, 2013 at 05:33 PM
I agree with JavaMaster.Wouldn't it make more sense to send the survey out with the RA assessment to all residents who are paying for this ? Spending $26,000 for this is just an example of how our recently raised assessments are spent without thinking through the "value added" to the community.What will it cost to let us know the results??Another possibility would be for the Board of Directors to initiate some contact in their respective areas(North,South Lakes,at large etc.) to get a variety of input. Maybe an on-line survey to all assessment payers might be an idea.
Gene January 20, 2013 at 01:22 PM
You all are assuming that the results will actually be used to make a difference, I'm skeptical since it seems that any input the community has provided on a broad range of topics was ignored.
John Lovaas January 20, 2013 at 06:00 PM
The survey is a bit of a jumble, not at all a precise instrument for measuring RA's performance overall or in different parts of the organization. It might yield some interesting anecdotal data about how people feel about living in Reston or would like to see in terms of future development, but it will not help the Association to recognize the excellence of some parts of the organization or the failings of others. Wonder how much this instrument and the exercise will cost in total?
Jack January 22, 2013 at 05:16 AM
Is RA still in the 1960's ? Send out online questionnaires to all residents who have email for almost free People who have emails , facebook or a patch account should exceed 3000 homes - right ? Does patch have online questionnaires ? If not can we request Patch to make one available ?
CH January 22, 2013 at 01:34 PM
I am surprised Reston is not more progessive. Other communities such as Loudoun County placed their survey on their website and published the link a press release and included them in other mailings.... so the reminder about tax assessments included a reference to the survey.
Lilguy January 22, 2013 at 01:55 PM
Jack & CH-- You both assume, wrongly I think, that RA cares about what you have to say. RA is going for form, not substance, by mailing questionnaires to a select few rather than gathering feedback from those in the community who care about it.
CH January 22, 2013 at 02:39 PM
Maybe so... but it seems to me, even if there is no plan to use the information, the $26k in printing could have been better used. Now they have to pay someone to manually tally the votes. There is more room for error. Distributing he instrument this way also fails to capture feedback from those who are very much an integral part of the Reston Community, but may not have a bricks and mortar presence.... non-profits for example. Even Survey Monkey tallies the votes, and provides analytics. I just expected more since Reston sits squarely in the DC technology corridor.
Lilguy January 22, 2013 at 02:57 PM
Couldn't agree more.
Mike Collins January 22, 2013 at 03:39 PM
I'll skip the debate over the survey methodology except to say that RA is not winging it here. Professionals were hired to devise and distribute the survey and to analyze the data. (I can't remember the name of the company, but their qualifications seemed solid.) As for whether RA listens, that requires folks to speak up. The email addresses of all members of the Board of Directors are available online and all of our meetings are open to the public. Mike Collins North Point Representative Reston Association Board of Directors mike4ra@gmail.com mobile: 571-969-4903
Lilguy January 22, 2013 at 04:28 PM
By "skipping the debate over the survey methodology," you are skipping the point. Why hasn't RA made the substance of the survey available to all Restonians? Why hasn't RA identified the survey company that's conducting the survey? Why isn't RA moving into the 21st century and using electronic means to share and receive replies to any survey? Why is the survey apparently using some poorly formed questions as described by the methodologist above? (Since most of us haven't seen the questions, we have no reason to doubt the statement above.) Why is it that they only ways we can communicate with the RA Board are via e-mails and at public meetings, which seem to have no effect? Why are you and other Board members unwilling to answer questions in a public forum like this? We are listening to your response.
Jack January 23, 2013 at 01:55 AM
Mike Collins - Thanks for your response Few requests & comments # We all have busy lives and sometimes cannot make it to RA meetings # We want our voices heard , can we create an online forum and move into the 21st century ? # There are so many free online survey websites which does everything we need for far less money and resources # As a start , kindly publish the questions on Reston website and please have an option for residents to provide feedback # Does the questionnaire have anything on lighting ? How many accidents would it take before we decide that we need lights on Wiehle avenue ? With the Metro coming this year , there is going to be more traffic on Wiehle avenue and would appreciate if we get some lights in this area Reston for all claims on being progressive ,would be great if we get some lighting at-least on main streets that has a lot of traffic Thanks again for your service !
Mike Collins January 23, 2013 at 04:50 PM
Some fair points made above and I didn't mean to dismiss them. The survey is being run by National Research Center, Inc. www.n-r-c.com. Staff selected these experts and worked them on the topics, questions, sample size, methods, etc. I don't know all the reasons they chose mail vs. electronic, but I do know that without adequate controls online surveys are not truly random because participants self-select and they can be manipulated by multiple responses or responses from outsiders. Controls cost money too. (RA elections cost over $50K.) I like the idea of posting survey questions online and I will work on that. My larger point is that a survey is not the only way to communicate with RA. Direct contact with staff or the Board is probably the most efficient. I understand that people are too busy for Board meetings, but if you can post here, you can email. I also like the idea of a dedicated online forum in theory, but we would probably need a full time staffer just to moderate, respond, and report on the all the questions and sentiments expressed. Personally, I try to follow most of the RA-related commentary here (and I mean that in a very broad sense), but not every Director can do that. We are volunteers with other jobs. On the other hand, believe it or not, some of the questions and comments I have seen here have led to discussions and actions by the Board or staff. Yay Patch!
Lilguy January 23, 2013 at 07:15 PM
Thanks for at least a partial response to the questions raised above, but let me ask a question: If electronic balloting is good enough for electing our RA Board of Directors, why isn't it good enough for a survey? (Makes me think all the Board members may have voted for themselves MANY times and, who knows, their cousins, aunts, and uncles in Tuscaloosa may have voted for them too!) Now back to your day job, Mike.
Jack January 24, 2013 at 04:20 PM
Thanks Mike for responding to 1 comment . Who should be talking to regarding lighting on Wiehle avenue?
Jack January 24, 2013 at 04:22 PM
Who should we be calling to post questions online ?
Mike Collins January 24, 2013 at 06:45 PM
Hi Jack - The County and VDOT handle streetlights, but I will get back to you here with more detail on the process and contacts. I will send the questionnaire to Patch so it can at least be posted here (email me at mike4ra@gmail.com if you'd like a copy) and I'll ask my RA colleagues about giving people an option to respond online even if the results are not as scientifically valid as the mailed version.
Karen Goff January 24, 2013 at 07:05 PM
Interested in seeing the survey in its entirety? It is now posted in a PDF with this article.
Jack January 25, 2013 at 06:16 PM
Thanks Karen and Mike for your expeditious action !
Mike Collins January 25, 2013 at 06:42 PM
Jack - I understand that lighting has been an issue for years with various advocacy groups, task forces, community meetings, action plans, demonstration projects, etc.. Short version: Some people like the dark; some don't. I asked Supervisor Hudgins office for the latest thinking at the county level and her staff provided the following info: "Installation of street lighting is primarily dependent on funding availability. FFX County has been relying on redevelopment for new street lights. There is a small amount of funding available for street light funding in the Hunter Mill District and our office is in the process of setting up a street light task force to discuss future street lighting endeavors in Reston." "As Reston moves towards a 24/7 community, we will have to balance safety concerns with light pollution concerns. This will be addressed through our task force. FFX County has a site detailing some street light information at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/construction/streetlights/light_main.htm" For further info and to make a specific recommendation, I would suggest contacting Paul Davis Legislative Aide Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins Hunter Mill District Office Phone: 703-478-0283 Email: Paul.Davis@fairfaxcounty.gov Mike

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