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The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.

Title:

Utilizing the Public Opinion Questionnaire to Answer Policy and Process Questions
Authors:
Michael A. Perfater
Year: 1978
VTRC No.: 78-R40
Abstract: The public opinion questionnaire used in this study was designed to provide the Department information regarding public involvement procedures as viewed by the public, as well as to provide insight into citizen opinion regarding the specifics of the projects on which it was tested. It was found to serve both functions very well. The study has provided insightful information regarding the Department's meeting process, and at the same time has provided an indication of the potential for using the questionnaire both as a means of gaining needed information for the project file and as a device for continually monitoring public reaction to the Department's programs at public informational meetings. Respondents attending the public meetings were quick to point out any procedures or behavior with which they were dissatisfied. The objective of the study was to evaluate the questionnaire as a tool for gathering information which would lead to improvements in the public meeting process. Included in the report are some specific recommendations regarding public meetings which are the result both of the author's observations at the public meetings and the information obtained on the questionnaires. Perhaps the most important message obtained from respondents was that citizens attend public meetings to obtain information--which is the purpose for which meetings were intended--not to participate in debates or to protest. It is important to know what information the public desires before the meeting so that the Department is properly prepared at the meeting. While there are many ways to ascertain the type of information desired by citizens, a questionnaire such as the one used in this study certainly is one method. The questionnaire, then, can provide reliable information as to community needs, goals, and values. It can open communication between the Department and the citizens, as it did in the three cases studied. It can provide the Department with a means for comparing its goals to the goals of the community, it can be used to educate the public of the Department's composite community involvement process and it can aid in resolving conflicts between the Department and the community about project alternatives and impacts. Finally, and most importantly, it was found that the public opinion questionnaire can aid in monitoring the Department's public involvement procedures. In this respect, any techniques or procedures which do not meet the goals of the community will be quickly pointed out by the members of the community. In short, the questionnaire can provide a way for citizens to give their opinions on the quality of involvement techniques and thus enable Department decisions regarding public involvement activities to be based on experience rather than on theory and supposition.