[Excerpt from New Haven Register, May 15, 2018 in Section A by Clare Dignan]
NEW HAVEN—People should be prepared to pick up their phones, because DataHaven wants to know how happy they are and whether their government is responsive.
The local nonprofit’s Community Wellbeing Survey is underway collecting data from neighborhoods about their health, happiness, employment and more. More 15,000 randomly-selected adults in every town in Connecticut will participate in live, in-depth interviews to paint a detailed picture of local life.
It’s a survey DataHaven has conducted every three years since 2012.
“You can often find data for the region or the country, but it’s hard to find high-quality data like this at a local level,” DataHaven Executive Director Mark Abraham said. “We ask the same questions of national surveys but we ask it locally.” Additionally, many large-scale surveys are usually conducted by a federal statistics program that will quantify what types of material resources people have, he said. The Wellbeing survey looks at how people feel about the resources they have.
Topics covered in the survey include: community vitality, health, family economic security and individual happiness. Others include civic engagement, transportation, housing, employment and satisfaction with government and community life.
Residents throughout Connecticut and several areas of New York will receive phone calls from survey-takers at the Siena College Research Institute. Calls, generally appearing as a 203 or 518 area code, will continue through the spring and summer.
DataHaven designed the survey with support from more than 120 government, academic, health care and community partners. Some of the largest supporters in New Haven include The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, Yale New Haven Hospital and the city. Supporters also reside in Greater Bridgeport, Lower Fairfield County, Greater Hartford and New Britain, Southeastern Connecticut, the Naugatuck Valley and others.
“We talked with researchers and nonprofits to work on specific issues,” Abraham said. “That info really helps with what to include in the survey to make sure it’s meaningful for capturing community level issues.”
The data produced by the survey has contributed to real changes in health and municipalities. For example, the survey measured the smoking rates of communities in an effort to capture how many people smoke at a county level, data that was available only nationally. That data has been used to show the rates of cigarette use is higher in certain neighborhoods, which led to the city prohibiting smoking in parks in New Haven, Abraham said. “Common measures you might find at a national level you don’t usually find a high-quality version at local level,” Abraham said. “We’re taking those questions and looking at them more locally. We’re trying to collect data that’s not available locally from current sources.”
The mission of the initiative is to produce reliable neighborhood-level information on issues that are most meaningful to local residents. The survey has five sections: employment and economic need, health, community and social relationships, neighborhoods and overall quality of life.
The categories address things such as whether people can afford utility bills, how healthy communities are, walk-ability of neighborhoods, whether people feel their government is responsive and whether they have friends they can count on.
The first four areas are connected with overall outcomes and having a common outcome ties the results together in a way that can’t be done just by income, Abraham said. “The main goal is to fill in the gaps where we don’t’ have the information,” Abraham said. “There’s already a census, but this adds in additional experiences throughout people’s life and it’s quantifying that.”
Survey results will be published in a series of local and statewide reports throughout 2018 and 2019 and will help illuminate progress being made toward community concerns, including financial security for families, access to affordable health care, public health and safety and opportunities for children to succeed. The data aims to shed light on current issues, such as the opioid epidemic, housing instability and transportation options. The results will be used by hospitals, nonprofits, cities and towns and foundations. Hospitals may use it to plan for healthier communities and understand their populations, while municipalities use the survey data in a number of ways to improve quality of life, Abraham said. Nonprofits will use the data to get funding for grants and often legislators cite the survey data to put forth policy changes.