How a Government Agency Uses Research to Understand Public Priorities – Part Two

Washington State Capitol Building

Washington State Capitol Building

In my last post, I told the story of how the Washington State Transportation Commission used an online panel of Washington State Ferries riders to collect feedback from citizens and report the results to the state legislature.

“The light bulb went off for all of us,” Griffith added, “ Since then, we’ve continued to grow the panel. Amazingly, it’s been four years since the panel’s been in place, and not only are we not seeing huge drop offs at citizen participation, but we saw our panel grow to over 8,000 members today.”

As is typical with government surveys, WSTC does not pay respondents for their participation. People participate because of the good feeling they get about helping their fellow citizens; and, as users of the transportation system in Washington State, they are able to shape their state’s future.

Young described the value proposition to Washington State citizens: “It’s your chance to have a voice on how the state uses your money, and where you want the state to put resources of dollars and time. And I think in many ways, Washington is one of those states where citizens do like to be involved, do like to be asked.”

The legislature has bought in to the process. The sheer amount of data being collected allows WSTC to report down to the legislative district level, so individual legislators can understand what’s going on in their districts in a more methodical way than is possible using one-on-one conversations alone.

Young added, “The kinds of question that came from legislators were all positive ones. The more you can engage the citizenry in all parts of the state of Washington, the better.”

Based on the success of the FROG panel, WSTC in Fall 2011 did an online, statewide survey on general transportation needs and priorities. Over 10,000 people to took the survey, which was online, with recruiting done via snail-mail pointing folks to sign up online.

Griffith said, “After folks completed this long online survey, we  asked them if they would be interested in being a part of any future state research that might happen on transportation. And out of that, we got about 8,000 people opting in.”

After the astounding success of the 2011 survey, WSTC took the results to the legislature in the 2012 session, and they provided WSTC $160,000 to go build a full statewide panel which is robust enough to provide detailed results by legislative district. The initiative is dubbed the “Voice of Washington State” (VOWS).  The WSTC just launched it first survey of the VOWS panel this week – sending the survey out to over 25,000 Washington State residents.  Results will be submitted to the 2013 Legislature.

Griffith remarked, “We’ve had some different states inquire about what we’ve done.  It seems it is slowly creating a buzz.” The WSTC effort has gotten national attention among transportation agencies.  And just recently, Griffith and Young were selected to present information on the FROG and VOWS at the January 2013 Transportation Research Board (TRB) national conference in Washington D.C.

How a Government Agency Uses Research to Understand Public Priorities – Part One

About Dana Stanley

Dana is the Editor-in-Chief of Research Access.


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