5 Methods of Collecting Citizen Feedback: Which is Best for Your Agency?

Learn about the 5 most effective ways to collect citizen feedback and how to choose the best citizen feedback system for your agency.

April 21, 2023

Article highlights: 

What is a citizen feedback system and why is it important?

Public safety agencies nationwide use citizen feedback systems to gather information about the quality of service they provide in the community. Whether it’s to meet CALEA standards for surveying citizens or a proactive approach to improve practices and build trust in the community, collecting citizen feedback is a useful tool for public safety agencies.

The main goals of implementing a citizen feedback system are to enhance community engagement, build public trust, and identify opportunities for improvement. Feedback results can help your agency understand community preferences, prioritize resources, and allocate budgets more effectively.

5 methods for gathering citizen feedback

There are a number of ways to gather feedback from your citizens, including citizen satisfaction surveys, community meetings, town halls, social media, focus groups, and complaint hotlines. 

In this section, we’ll give an overview of these methods to help familiarize you with options you can implement at your agency.

1. Citizen satisfaction surveys

Public safety agencies use citizen satisfaction surveys in an effort to get feedback directly from citizens in their community. While most citizen feedback systems are open-ended, surveys allow agencies to choose topics and questions so you can collect targeted data on the information you actually want to know. 

There are several question types you might consider based on your current relationship with your community and what kind of data you want to collect. Here are some common topics agencies include in their citizen satisfaction surveys:

  1. Overall satisfaction
  2. Quality of service
  3. Perceptions of safety
  4. Trust and confidence
  5. Community engagement
  6. Bias and fairness
  7. Use of force

Depending on the size and capacity of the agency, surveys may be conducted over the phone, online, or in-person. It’s important to keep in mind that the easier it is for citizens to complete the survey, the more likely you are to get a high response rate and meaningful results you can measure and track over time. 

The easier it is for citizens to complete the survey, the more likely you are to get a high response rate and meaningful results you can measure and track over time.

2. Community meetings and town halls

Hosting community meetings and town halls provides face-to-face interactions between you and your citizens outside the context of an incident. These forums also allow citizens to express their concerns directly so they feel heard. 

One of the biggest benefits to this citizen feedback system is that community members can see that your agency cares about what they have to say. It also gives them absolute confidence that their feedback is getting in front of the right people. 

But if community meetings and town halls are your only methods for collecting citizen feedback, there are drawbacks. Because they’re in person, these meetings limit the amount of people who can attend due to scheduling or room capacity. It’s also difficult to measure satisfaction in any meaningful way. Feedback may only be subjective comments from the crowd rather than calculated data you can track. 

One of the biggest drawbacks is that these meetings are difficult to moderate. A single passionate, angry person could dominate the entire event and negatively affect attendees’ perception of how your department is serving the community. 

3. Social media and online forums

Engaging with citizens digitally is often a necessity in today’s world. Many agencies and divisions have their own social media pages, along with multiple ways to engage with community members in online forums. Digital engagement methods allow you to make a connection with your citizens where they already spend a lot of their time, and they are great tools for reaching younger audiences.

However, as a citizen feedback system, social media and online forums can be unreliable and inaccurate. Anyone can get on a social media platform and leave a review for your agency, whether or not they actually interacted with anyone in your department. So, while you can measure the results and track trends of online citizen feedback, the data you collect might not accurately reflect how your agency is performing. 

4. Focus groups and interviews

As a citizen feedback system, focus groups and interviews let you explore specific issues in depth. This method of engagement is all about open-ended discussion that gives you insight into a particular issue or initiative from the perspective of your citizens. 

While online citizen feedback and citizen satisfaction surveys can reach more people, focus groups and interviews allow you to ask more questions and collect more nuanced information. This method is great when you want to dive deeper into a particular topic you identified as a point of interest while collecting data from other feedback methods. 

For example, maybe your citizen satisfaction surveys revealed that your citizens want more proactive policing initiatives in the area high schools. Your agency could set up interviews or a focus group of those respondents to better understand what they’re looking for and how you can meet their needs. 

5. Complaint hotlines and online portals

Complaint hotlines and online complaint portals are fairly self-explanatory methods of collecting citizen feedback. Providing these to your community gives them a quick way to let you know about an issue they experienced with your department. This allows you to efficiently identify when something has gone wrong and take proper action to address the problem. 

By virtue, this method will never provide positive citizen feedback or highlight what your agency and your officers are doing well. Although you need this feedback collection tool, it shouldn’t be the only way you collect feedback. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a bleak and inaccurate picture of how your community feels about your agency.

Which citizen feedback system is right for you?

After learning about the different ways to gather citizen feedback, you’re probably trying to determine which options your agency needs. The method you choose depends on: 

  • The kind of information you hope to collect
  • The capacity of your agency to implement the system you choose
  • The likelihood of getting enough responses from your community to make the effort worthwhile

The best way to approach citizen feedback may be a combination of the methods described above so you get more representative data from the community. The points below show how an agency might combine citizen satisfaction surveys, complaint portals, and focus groups for a comprehensive citizen feedback system.

  • Send citizen satisfaction surveys after certain interactions with your officers to collect and track data on how your community actually feels about your level of service. 
  • Use complaint portals to catch red flag issues that need to be addressed right away. 
  • Leverage focus groups and interviews to dive into the topics you want to address on a deeper level – to uncover opportunities for growth or explore ideas for new initiatives. 

If you’re looking for one method to start, one of the most effective ways to collect citizen feedback is to use citizen satisfaction surveys. When done right, they can provide: 

  • Real-time feedback on interactions citizens actually had with your officers
  • Unbiased data that can be tracked over time
  • Meaningful feedback on what your officers are doing well and where your agency has room to improve

Once you have hard data to work with, you can expand into other areas and take your citizen feedback system to the next level.

Ready to send out citizen satisfaction surveys, but don’t know what questions to ask? Get started by checking out the Top Questions to Include in Your Community Satisfaction Surveys

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