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In many ways, the circumstances in Red Hook were ideal for conducting a large survey. A large cadre of community members was ready to go door to door. It is a relatively small, well-defined community, making it easier to reach every corner of the neighborhood. Further, on-staff researchers were available to help design the survey and analyze the results.

However, it is possible to conduct a survey with far fewer resources. There are numerous ways to approach a survey—from a professional project conducted by consultants (as in Vermont) to less formal initiatives (like the youth survey carried out by teenagers in Denver). In West Palm Beach, Florida, a survey of 60 residents helped community court planners develop a community service program. Likewise, the youth survey in Denver helped highlight teenagers’ top community concerns: crime (including graffiti, gangs, and shootings) and quality-of-life problems (such as cleaner alleys, better street lighting, and improved traffic controls). In response, members of the Denver district attorney’s youth empowerment team are trying to have more stop signs installed in the neighborhood and are organizing neighborhood cleanups.

When it is well executed, a survey can build planners’ knowledge about a community, cultivate the goodwill of stakeholders, nurture partnerships, and measure a program’s effectiveness over time. Combined with other methods of community outreach—such as convening focus groups, attending meetings of neighborhood organizations, and creating community advisory boards—a survey can help ensure that a community justice project makes the neighborhood safer by building stronger ties between criminal justice agencies and the communities they serve.

Surveying Communities: A Resource for Community Justice Planners
May 2003