by Damema Mann, senior survey associate, National Research Center, Inc.

You’ve probably heard a lot about data-based decision making. It’s a practice that is essential for local governments to move forward. For communities that consistently conduct surveys, data-based decision making is more than just a buzz phrase. My colleagues and I have seen our fair share of survey results put to good use, and here are five of the best ways to use them.

Inform Strategic Planning

Whether data come from a survey of residents, employees, local business owners or any other group, the results can help you see the bigger picture. Decisionmakers, for example, might use community survey data when considering new initiatives. Managers might survey employees to help determine ways to increase job satisfaction. It's possible that a business climate survey can help leaders understand what local businesses need to thrive. 

Budget and Allocate Resources

A great many of National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) local government clients rely on survey data to decide how they will allocate funds. Data can indicate which programs may need more or fewer resources. Assessing how well survey results match up with community or organizational goals is the key to backing a budget with evidence.

Measure Performance

Conducting a survey is a great way to help determine targets to reach for, and gathering trend data over time will allow you to clearly see how programs and services are measuring up to those goals. How well is the city serving its residents? Are employees happy with their career opportunities? Where does the town need to go from here? Survey data can help answer all these questions.

Engage the Community

It's important for residents to have the opportunity to share their opinions. It's equally important for them to feel confident that their voices are being heard. Within an organization, managers must also engage employees. Ultimately, representative results allow leaders to move beyond reacting to the lone, squeaky wheel. Conducting a survey is a proactive approach to initiating and completing the communication loop with all stakeholders.

Improve Public Trust

A citizen survey can show residents that you want to hear from them. Openly publishing results proves they were heard. Describing to the public how those data will be used in planning and budgeting proves that their voices mattered. Thus, surveys can be a great help in improving civic trust and strengthening community bonds. In the same way, surveys can improve trust within an organization.

This post was originally published on the National Research Center, Inc. (NRC) website. NRC is a full-service survey research and evaluation firm focusing on the information requirements of the public sector, including local governments, health care providers, foundations, and nonprofit organizations. Visit its homepage on the web at and check out the News and Knowledge page for more updates, tips, and stories. NRC is ICMA’s preferred provider for resident and employee surveys.

Related Resources

The Voice of the Public. This PM magazine article from 2017 looks at what surveys can tell local governments about the wants and needs of residents. 

Ten Common Community Survey Mistakes to Avoid. This 2018 blog post looks at common mistakes that local governments make in conducting resident surveys and how to avoid these mistakes. 

How Can You Publicize Your Resident Survey? In this 2017 blog post, the focus is on how to reach residents to make sure they respond to a survey for the best response possible. 


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