The Town of Oro Valley now uses the system “FlashVote” for conducting online surveys to gather public opinion on projects and events affecting residents. The one-minute FlashVote surveys for Oro Valley residents are conducted monthly, and have so far gathered public opinion on subjects like recreation and water utilities.
The town began using these online surveys at the beginning of 2019 after reassessing its public communications throughout 2018. This assessment also involved removing the “OV Fact Checker” from their website, a platform where town specialists once published articles to detail and clear misinformation on current events, such as taxes and golf courses.
“We were doing a good job pushing information out, but we needed to improve the number of ways that we were bringing citizen input in,” said Misti Nowak, communications administrator for the Town of Oro Valley, at a May 1 town council meeting.
During this same time, town staff was discussing possibly building a roundabout at the North La Cañada Drive and West Moore Road intersection. At the direction of Town Manager Mary Jacobs (who also directed the removal of the OV Fact Checker) the town issued an online survey to gather public opinion. They issued this through SurveyMonkey, a simple and free online survey platform.
“We were overwhelmed by how many residents participated in that survey,” Nowak said. “And we thought ‘Wow, maybe this tool—online surveys—is a really good tool for Oro Valley.’”
While SurveyMonkey is free, the town chose to pay to use FlashVote, as they would receive more statistical information with this new system. FlashVote surveys cost roughly $400 dollars each. During this most recent fiscal year, the Town of Oro Valley set aside $2,900 for a six-survey trial as well as 1,000 postcards mailed to random town residents notifying them of this new optional service. The Town Communications Department is now requesting $4,900 of the Town Manager’s budget go to a 12-survey trial for next fiscal year.
“SurveyMonkey has a time and a place, the roundabout was a great example.” Nowak said. “But often times we end up not hearing from the full spectrum of residents… Most importantly, FlashVote provides statistical validity. That’s not something the other tools like SurveyMonkey can do.”
According to FlashVote, the system ensures statistical validity by accounting for sampling error, self-selection error and question bias error. Beyond this, residents must also verify their residence within Oro Valley to participate.
“We wanted to make sure that whatever we decided to do aligned and supported the strategic leadership plan,” Nowak said.
In particular, the town wanted to focus on section 6A of Oro Valley’s 2019/2020 Town Council Strategic Leadership Plan, which seeks to strengthen community engagement and citizen outreach by “creating effective community input opportunities to help recommend programs and investments that meet the needs of different demographic groups in the community.”
Nowak said the town recognizes that FlashVote “is not a perfect tool.”
“It’s not going to yield the kind of information that a $10,000 full-fledged survey with an outside third-party is going to provide,” she said. “But we don’t have the funds to throw $10,000 surveys out there all the time.”
There are a handful of perceived limitations to the system for which Nowak offered answers. First, surveys are only available for 48 hours. She said this is because the majority of those who are likely to answer the surveys will do so in this timeframe. The town also does not advertise when new surveys are announced. However, she maintains this is to avoid sampling error.
Another issue the council discussed is the private information participants disclose to both the town and the FlashVote system when they sign up.
“It’s the organization FlashVote that actually owns the data and the information, and we don’t,” said council member Steve Solomon. “So there’s the issue of what do they do with it? But I’m just saying obviously you can find faults in everything. I know I’ve had at least one comment from someone saying they felt it was too intrusive to participate.”
However, the council members also say being able to receive anonymous messages from town residents, which users are able to send at the end of surveys, are critical to open discussions.
Nowak said one of the biggest challenges with the current system is getting more users under the age of 30. Multiple residents from a single home can sign up, with a minimum age of 13 allowed to participate.
Currently, over 750 Oro Valley residents are registered for this new online survey system. And according to FlashVote, when taking into account the number of registered users compared to how many of them are actively using the system, there is an 85 percent participation rate. This is the highest participation rate for FlashVote, nationwide.
“Our residents are really engaged, and they seem to be responding well to this,” Nowak said. “We’re having great return results.”
Oro Valley Mayor Joe Winfield and Vice Mayor Melanie Barrett did not return requests for comment regarding FlashVote.
For more information, and to sign-up, visit flashvote.com/orovalley.