Some Redland City Councillors, including the Mayor, said before the last election that they would act in accordance with “community views” on the issue of urban footprint extension. Most other councillors said up front that they opposed any extension to the urban footprint.
For details of who said what refer to the recent post: Election promises about urban footprint.
So for those councillors who will be guided by “community views”. Do Redlands residents support Shoreline’s proposal to convert a large area of rural land into more urban footprint?
Shoreline has produced a “Community Attitude Survey”. A careful reading of the survey report reveals that it is an opt-in survey which has no statistical credibility for representing the overall views of the Redlands community.
The limitations of opt-in surveys and Shoreline’s misuse of its opt-in survey results are discussed below.
Using polls and surveys to find out what people want
Opinion polls and attitude surveys are good ways to find out what a community thinks.
A properly designed survey of randomly selected participants can predict the views of a total population with a high degree of accuracy.
But the key words are “properly designed” and “randomly selected”. Professional pollsters, academics and market researchers strive to use sampling methods and polling questions that minimise the likelihood of biased findings.
There are other ways of doing surveys. News media sites, including Redlands2030, sometimes use “opt-in” surveys or polls. Questions are published and people can opt to respond.
These straw polls are not recognised as accurate predictors of what a community might think, feel or do. What they are useful for is to find out if some people are interested in a particular issue in order to promote further discussion or investigation.
The inaccuracy of opt-in polls is discussed in this readable report on research conducted at Stanford University: Study Finds Trouble for Opt-in Internet Surveys.
This report states that opt-in polls are used by market researchers because they are “fast and cheap”. However,
internet surveys based on self-selected or “opt-in” panels “were always less accurate, on average, than probability sample surveys”
Graham Young and Internet Thinking
The Shoreline Project commissioned its community attitude survey in 2013. This survey was conducted by Graham Young, the Executive Director of a small web design and internet marketing company called Internet Thinking.
Interestingly, Graham Young happens to be a strong supporter of the Shoreline Project. On 19 November he made a submission in support of the Shoreline development application.
While that is his right as a citizen, it begs the question of how impartial he may have been as a community attitude analyst.
Shoreline’s opt-in survey
The Shoreline Community Attitude Survey is clearly an example of an opt-in survey.
In his report Graham Young makes the following statements about the methodology used to obtain responses.
- An online version of the survey was available on our website. The website was publicised in all of our material, and in advertisements that were run in the Victoria Point Cineplex between May 20 and June 22, 2013.
- A hardcopy version of the survey was distributed to 47,500 households as an insert inthe local paper The Bayside Bulletin.
- A display was erected at the Victoria Point Cineplex to complement the advertising with a box for submission of surveys.
- Surveys were mailed to tenants of Fox and Bell.
- A link to the survey was emailed to clients and associates of Fiteni Homes, and to an email list of businesses in Redlands.
- Surveys were also made available at the Community Information Day held at the RedlandBay Community Hall on June 22, 2013
The survey was also incentivized with a weekly draw from respondents for a free double movie pass, with a grand draw at the end of the process of a family weekend at South Stradbroke Island.
Considering the Redlands’ has 147,000 residents (2013) of which 100,000 are electors, the bottom line message is that a very small proportion of Redlands residents opted to participate in this poll.
In fact, less than one half of one percent (<0.5%) of the Redlands electorate indicated support for the Shoreline proposal.
With such a small sample using a ‘troubled’ survey method, it is most unlikely that the responses to Shoreline’s opt-in survey accurately reflect the attitudes of the whole Redland City community (the residents).
The validity of the Shoreline Community Attitude survey findings are considered limited to the small subset of the population (the respondents) who bothered to complete and submit the survey form.
Shoreline confuses respondents with residents
In most of the Community Attitude Survey report the author is careful to limit his claims of findings to “respondents”.
But in the Introduction (page 1) and in other summary documents put forward as part of its submission to Council (like the glossy Survey Results Brochure) Shoreline makes totally unsupported statements like:
As soon as the word “residents” is used instead of “respondents” statements like this become extremely inaccurate and misleading.
Does the community support the Shoreline project?
At this point in time the only document which provides an indication of the community’s views about urban footprint extension is the Redlands 2030 Community Plan which was developed with widespread community participation. This document (which still underpins all planning decision making in Redland City) contains a progress measure target that:
The community’s attitude to the Shoreline project, specifically, has not been properly investigated. The Shoreline community attitude survey is most unlikely to be a reliable indicator of community attitudes because it does not use a statistically valid method of selecting respondents.
One way to find what the community thinks would be for Council, or Shoreline, to get an experienced and independent market research consultant to conduct a statistically valid survey using random sampling methods and an unbiased set of questions. The questions would need to be worded to find out what people really think, rather than leading them to provide responses that support a preferred outcome.
Or Council could decide to have the question of urban footprint extension put forward for statutory public consultation as part of a planning scheme review, before any further time and effort is spent on assessing Shoreline’s proposal.