City hall wants your insights – they want to pick your brains and do it all in a couple of minutes from the comfort of your keyboard.

December 11, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  They refer to it as “the panel” – it’s a collection of people who want to be on a citizen’s panel that the city will turn to with questions they would like to ask.

A lot of market research companies create these panels of people that they run questions by almost instantly – the trick is to have a panel in place ready to use.  A number of months ago Angus Reid, the Godfather of the polling business in this country, was in town to tell an audience about a service he had developed called Critical Vision that he had sold the city on.

Leah Bisutti, a city hall staffer, has been working out of the city manager’s office on the setting up part of the operation which the city hopes will go live sometime in late January.

It will be a very soft start – the objective is to get a panel with as many people as possible on it – the more people the more accurate the response will be as a measure of opinion on an issue in the city.

Hundreds of Burlington citizens attend budget meetings and give their opinions.  The city wants thousands to take part in a panel that can be reached in seconds and get back responses very very quickly.

There were some concerns that the city would know who the people on the panel are.  The only thing the city will know is the name you give yourself.  The rest of information is on computers to which the city does not have access.

The people who manage the back-end of this computerized poll will want to know your gender, probably your postal code and the ward you live in.  They might want to know your age as well.

This allows them to ask you questions that are appropriate to who you are as a demographic and where you live.  Ward 4 issues don’t mean all that much to people who live in ward 6.

The Vision Critical operation is very good at managing polling data and they can arrive at pretty valid conclusions based on a decent sample.  City hall wants more than a decent sample – they would like to be able to say that we have a significant portion of the panel who tell us they either want or don’t want a particular service provided or they are prepared or not prepared to pay more for a service.

Can we expect to see posters like this on city streets as the city looks for the thousands of citizens it wants to see on its opinion panel.

There is some concern at city hall that too few people will register to be on the panel.  City manager Jeff Fielding points out that Vancouver, another city using the service, needed a year to pull in 1000 people to their panel. 

It can be argued that Burlington has a more active community – we get 200 people out to the Mayor’s Inspire Series and when there is a serious community issue it is not unusual to see 400+ people crowding the Mainway Arena.

The panel, which is a significant, and if responded to by enough people, could become a close to vital tool for the city to get response from people who are busy and not able to get out to meetings but still want an opportunity to voice an opinion.

But it needs people – and that’s you.  If you are a regular Gazette redder and there are now more than 20,000 of them, this is something you want to be in on.

Click on the linkwhich will get you to a box into which you can type your email address.  The people in the city manager’s office will add your name to the list of those interested in taking part.


City announces plans for a citizen’s opinion panel.

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7 comments to City hall wants your insights – they want to pick your brains and do it all in a couple of minutes from the comfort of your keyboard.

  • Tony Pullin

    I see no harm in the City seeking consensus from a cross section of it’s citizens. Albeit it sounds like the City is asking the questions. Perhaps the concept would be better served if the citizens panel were to also field questions from within their own group, and present their data/findings to the City and the general Public.

    • George Vincenzo

      The only cross section you will get is from the minority of complainers in the community. What data and findings would be anticipated from this concept?

      There is only one question that needs to be asked: why is there going to be a 14% tax increase?

      • Tony Pullin

        Your question, “What data and findings would be anticipated from this concept?” That would only be limited by what questions you might ask. Here’s an example; as a member of the CFIB (Canadian Federation of Independent Business) I continually receive questionnaires and ballots to submit. The questions are pertinent to that sector and the results are used to provide a collective consensus to various levels of government, bureaucracies, and institutions.
        Questions should be derived both by the City and the “Panel” and the results should be public. Anyone willing to contribute their voice could be on the panel assuming there is no size constraint.
        So instead of being one voice airing a concern about a tax increase, you/we could be a voice 1000 strong or more.

        • George Vincenzo

          The quality of the data, and how the data is employed, are the issues. Your lobby group probably regurgitates the same concepts; lower taxes; less government; minimum wage, etc. etc. in the collective response, and it goes into the same inbox at wherever the results end up. Same old story, same old conclusions; except its the survey companies that you keep in business.

          I dont need a survey to know that nobody enjoys the pleasures associated with a 14% tax increase.

          Council and staff just need to do their jobs at managing this city without the reliance on patchy survey results. Either you know how to do what you are supposed to do or you do not. The danger at this city hall, is too much reliance is placed on group hug consensus building for making business case decisions.

          Unless you can guarantee at least a majority of the population participating, forget it. And, that also does not necessarily mean the government should always make decisions based on a majority consensus on all issues.

          • Tony Pullin

            George, as a resident and ICX sector ratepayer for many years, I hear you loud and clear on the tax issue.
            Yes, I agree the concept would most certainly have flaws and be open to interpretation.
            I simply think that more information is better than less, whether it be used by the City, lobby groups or private individuals. If anything, I would think it would add to Public awareness so that more people would be encouraged to participate, speak up, vote.

  • marie

    More smoke and mirrors from City Hall! Start by listening to the delegates before you instead of spending more tax dollars to engage a outside polling company.

    • George Vincenzo

      Waste of money and city resources. There is not enough going on in this city, except for some minor trivial issues, to warrant this type of feedback analysis. All this city needs is a big complaints box at the front entrance. Get on with tackling the 14% tax increase, and stop with the chronic group hug sessions.