True statisticians must be rolling their eyes at the prevalence of this new tool. There is so much power in proper data collection, and the architects of online surveys know this—yet the City of Edmonton chooses not to be scientific. Why?
A truly scientific online poll would allow each user to complete it only once, among other things. This is an easy setting to configure. StatsCan does this. Political parties do this. Focus groups do this. Academics do this. Anyone serious about data collection does this. There is no value in the data if it is not scientific.
The fact that the City of Edmonton frequently employs surveys that can be completed multiple times by the same people is a sign that they are not attempting any meaningful collection of data for decision making. I hate to say it, but I’m inclined to believe that the City of Edmonton will only use the biased data collection if that data-set meets their pre-determined narrative. The search for support is the raison d’etre of the Edmonton ‘Insight Community’, which is the main thrust in this dishonest info gathering. If the results are unfavourable to their pet-project du jour, then reference to the collected trove will be sidelined and not cited as evidence to deny a proposal.
There are radical people on almost every issue, and the most passionate ones will attempt to influence decisions. Some people may choose to fill out surveys hundreds of times to bias the overall results. I personally know of cyclists that suggest they do this to promote their bicycling obsession. Do you really think cycling in Edmonton is as popular as the City will have you believe? Do you know how many millions of dollars x10 are spent on bike infrastructure in Edmonton? Do you really think cars should be secondary? You can believe the City or believe your lying eyes—because the two are telling different stories.
Here’s another example. The media reported that people in Saudi Arabia were completing the Alberta NDP’s online climate change survey which was focused exclusively on engaging Albertans (to understand our pain tolerance to new taxes). You mean the Saudis might be okay with us pricing our oil out of competition?
A more recent example is the criticism of the federal Liberals’ “My Democracy” quiz that has unserious and ambiguous questions that have fungible results. This is not how you consult Canadians on electoral reform, or so many pundits are arguing.
Back to Edmonton: Poorly worded questions are omnipresent in the City’s surveys, such as the one highlighted in this North Side Journal’s picture: “Do you agree with this idea or would you prefer that we keep things as they are or change to something else?” I am not trying to embarrass anyone, but the lack of rigor in this proposition needs to be called out for the sake of professionalism.
The choices to answer this survey question are various degrees of agreement or disagreement. So is one agreeing with the “idea” or agreeing that we should “change to something else”? Surveys need to be crafted clearly or there is a case for throwing out all of the results. And then you have wasted everyone’s time.
In addition to the incoherent question in the example, the preamble states that the City has already taken a position—before the survey results are in! So why are we doing the survey? The preamble is also filled with technical jargon that is barely comprehensible to the average resident. What are you saying?
The City of Edmonton also suffers from clarity issues regarding development permit circulations (those odd pieces of mail that you occasionally receive referencing overlay zoning, rear setbacks, and flanking yards). Your average citizen is not an urban planner (read: technocrat), so the language should be made more accessible to the average citizen. The concepts are easy, but the language is foreign. Most of these notices get discarded due to misunderstanding.
The City of Edmonton also does targeted research gathering. They go on buses and get people to fill out transit surveys, or they go to rec centres and ask the patrons about their opinions on fitness. Again, these are not representative samples. Again, these results are biased. Again, we cannot trust the data. Again, the City will cite this data to Council in support of initiatives that real people do not want.
Anyone who attempts to complete all of Edmonton’s Insight Community’s surveys will become exhausted, as these surveys are prolific and tax our patriotism. The City is wearing out goodwill with token consultation. We want to provide meaningful input, but we are constantly asked inane questions without a clear understanding of how our input fits into the black box of municipal decision making.
Is this why the City is always woefully wrong on what the residents of Ward 3 want? The City either does not know what real people think, or they ignore the north side opinion. I am the only candidate for Council that is championing the north side. I always say “Ward 3 First, North Side Second, the Rest of Edmonton Third.”
Although it may be difficult to administer, I support properly administered plebiscites or referenda to gather opinions between elections. I believe that we should have votes on a series of properly-vetted questions, as agreed upon by Council. For example: should we be building more LRT? Should we give money to a millionaire to build the Oilers a new arena? Should we have closed the functioning city centre airport? Should speed limits be changed? Should property taxes be hiked again? Until such a system is in place, you should provide extreme prejudice in your municipal council vote. Choose your councillor wisely. Local issues probably impact your day-to-day life more than provincial or federal ones. We live here.
Jon Dziadyk, “Jon D for Ward 3”
North Side Journal
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