Coby Mach in the LJS

May 26, 2009 at 11:35am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

LIBA’s Coby Mach has a piece in this morning’s Journal Star in which he discusses several good reasons why the results of the city’s unscientific online Taking Charge Budget and Program Priorities Survey should be interpreted very carefully. He is correct. The survey should be considered little more than a conversation starter. Be extremely wary if local officials try to sell the results as representing anything more than that.

Not that stirring up conversations is a bad thing, of course. On the contrary, it’s very good to engage the public in this line of thinking. And even an unscientific online survey can help us determine which conversations are worth pursuing as we go forward, and which we shouldn’t spend much time on.

As Governor Heineman and the DMV have learned, relying on anonymous online surveys to make actual decisions can really make one look like an ass. I don’t want to see Mayor Beutler & Co. make the same mistakes. The City could earn a lot of respect by releasing as much of the raw data as possible. Likewise, the City should make explicit its criteria for any manipulation of the data: voiding results, for example, and IP whitelisting and blacklisting. The more transparent are the data, the better we will be able to support or refute Beutler’s budget decisions.

Do you have any concerns about the budget process that have not yet been addressed?

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The Comments

Gene May 26, 2009 at 5:23pm

I think it was pretty clear that it was an unscientific survey.

Gene May 26, 2009 at 5:40pm

And didn’t the city use the Priority Lincoln survey to tier the city’s budget priorities? The majority of the issues in the online survey dealt with the last tier (third) on the priority list, which is why Startran and the city’s matching retirement program weren’t dealt with. Reducing the retirement match on new employees won’t solve anything anyway as the city isn’t hiring. Either Coby Mach isn’t very informed or he isn’t comprehending a great deal of this.

Dave K May 26, 2009 at 6:09pm

A friend of mine sent me a screenshot of one of the questions on the survey.  She said many of the other questions were similarly worded.  The question is linked below.  The entire survey should be dismissed and the results, including the raw data, should be destroyed without being released.

http://img12.imageshack.us/my.php?image=questionp.jpg

Mr. T May 27, 2009 at 1:48am

Gene is right. From the beginning everyone knew and presented the survey as being non-scientific, and its highly doubtful that Beutler or for that matter anyone would make policy decisions on the basis of non-scientific surveys (with the exception of possibly the Nebraska DMV).

Every mechanism for obtaining input from the public has its flaws and trade-offs, and that includes online surveys. But it also includes petitions, public hearings, and so on and so forth. Getting the public involved in making budgetary decisions is always a good thing, despite the imperfections.

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