RCC Readies Survey

RCC Readies Survey

Some are worried the $41,000 survey will neglect to adequately poll young people and the non-English speaking community.

<bt>Every few years the Reston Community Center conducts a survey to gauge what the community thinks about its services and programs. Now, RCC is again preparing to poll Reston residents, but some are worried it will neglect to adequately survey young people and non-English speakers.

At a meeting Monday night, representatives from the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia presented their methodology to the RCC Board of Governors. The poll, which is scheduled to get underway in early September, will use listed telephone numbers of residents.

In 2001, the last time the RCC survey was conducted, the demographic profile of respondents was weighted to match available U.S. Census data. The new survey will similarly weight responses again to ensure all populations are represented in the 1,000 household sample, said Thomas Guterbock, director of the Center for Survey Research.

But the new sample is likely to leave out young people, Guterbock said, because young people tend to primarily use cell phones rather than land lines. Also, young people tend to be more transient and might not be listed in the phone book.

"We can't reach those people," Guterbock said. "The problem is that we don't know how to reach them. It's not that there isn't a concern, we just don't know how to do it."

SIMILARLY, the non-English speaking population will be excluded from the survey's respondents because translating the poll's entire process can be expensive, Guterbock said.

"We're defining the population as English-speaking residents," he said.

Guterbock suggested RCC use focus groups or other polling methods to gauge the many different non-English speaking communities.

Juan Pacheco, of the anti-gang organization Barrios Unidos, told the RCC board on Monday that excluding non-English speaking residents can leave out valuable insight into the greatest needs of the community.

From 2000 to 2002, Barrios Unidos held anti-gang meetings at the RCC-Hunters Woods. By leaving out the non-English speaking population, RCC will not necessarily hear the pleas for such crucial programming, Pacheco said.

"These people should be heard," Pacheco said. "They're part of the community too, but they don't have a voice."

RCC Board Member Carl Levine said that the community has changed in the last few years, perhaps making the 2000 Census data a poor picture of reality. Levine pointed out that the last time the survey was conducted, far fewer residents lived in the Reston Town Center district.

"Reston is a much different place than it was three years ago," he said.

APART FROM the drawbacks of the survey, RCC board members said they are anxious to learn what the community thinks about the center's offerings.

The 2001 survey indicated that almost all respondents (94 percent) had heard of RCC and its programs. Slightly more than half of the respondents said that RCC added to the overall quality of life in Reston and the vast majority said it made the community more attractive to residents and businesses.

The upcoming survey, which will cost $41,270, is intended to better gauge what programs residents value most and what suggestions residents have for better programming.

Also, the new survey will ask the fundamental question of why the overwhelming majority of residents are aware of RCC, but only 28 percent described themselves as regularly using its facilities at Hunters Woods and Lake Anne.

"It should find out: What do you want RCC to do?" said RCC Executive Director Denny Kern. "What are you looking for?"

TO MAXIMIZE comparability, the content of the survey will remain close to previous RCC surveys by focusing on residents' familiarity and usage of the community center.

But some new questions and issues are likely to be added. One question suggested Monday night was to probe why people do or do not vote in RCC's preference poll, which nominates members of the Board of Governors. Turnout for RCC elections is low, with an average of a few hundred people voting each year.

Additionally, the survey might ask if RCC should take a new direction in its strategic plan.

Decisions about what the survey should and should not measure will be made Monday night at 7 p.m. in a special meeting of the RCC Long Range Planning Committee.

Residents selected as part of the sample will receive a letter in the mail in the coming weeks and will be called by researchers in September.