Councils that consult panels of residents to gather information on satisfaction levels will not be able to use this data to compare themselves against others, the LGA has decided.
Officers and members developing the LG Inform online tool have decided that information gathered from residents panels cannot be used for the tool’s benchmarking function as the data is not comparable.
The LGA’s improvement board voted last week to send councils an approved set of questions to be used in satisfaction surveys but agreed that data from resident panels should not be allowed to be uploaded.
Since the Place Survey was scrapped in 2010, councils have not had a way of comparing levels of resident satisfaction. One of the aims of LG Inform was to allow councils to upload their own information to compare it with others. But while many now conduct their own surveys, there is no common methodological framework so the results cannot be compared.
The LGA will now supply councils with a set of questions which, if guidance is followed on their wording, order, location and methodology, can be inserted into councils pre-existing surveys to allow them to be comparable.
Juliet Whitworth, the LGA’s research and information manager, conceded that the decision to not allow resident panel data to be uploaded would disappoint some.
“Some will inevitably be disappointed and we will keep this under review, but at this stage we will not be allowing it,” she said.
Resident panels are used by some councils as they are cheaper to run than performing random sample surveys by telephone, post or in person. But despite some councils wanting to be able to benchmark their results against other panel surveys, the LGA said there was “strong evidence” to suggest there was a response bias among panel members as participants were often not randomly selected and therefore not statistically representative. The very act of volunteering to be a panel member also marks them out as different from someone who has not volunteered, again affecting representativeness.
But Alison Monkhouse, corporate research and consultation manager at Kirklees Council, which is currently considering whether to set-up a mainly ‘online’ panel, said there were also issues with using surveys to gather data.
“We need to recognise that random sample postal surveys can have their own issues in terms of non-response bias,” she said. “I think panels will continue to be an important method for councils, and perhaps increasingly so to help support continues resident involvement in a climate of decreasing resources.
“If further surveys specifically for benchmarking purposes are simply not going to be feasible for people, then the number of authorities participating in benchmarking may proves to be as much as an issue as methodological considerations.”
Kirklees said it would participate in benchmarking if it was able to use its pre-existing resident satisfaction survey data but said it would not run the survey again simply to meet proposed LGA requirements.
To learn more about LG Inform, go to www.local.gov.uk/about-LGInform