Public opinion polls or surveys of public opinion are used across the world for many
reasons, from estimating election results to citizen report cards. While survey results are
reported and shared with the public, they are also used to help make policy decisions
about public service delivery. This paper focuses on the use of performance information
obtained from citizens to help make decisions about resource allocations and improving
service delivery. Special challenges in conducting surveys and uses of survey-based
performance indicators are presented. Performance data have little value and remain
underutilized if nothing is done with the information. Survey results give information on
what is working and what is not. The cost of not getting this feedback and evaluating how
services affect citizens far outweighs the cost of conducting surveys.
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Public opinion polls are defined as a survey of public opinion from a specific sample that
is usually designed to be representative of the opinions of the population. Surveys have
been used to obtain information from the public for decades, with some accounts of the
earliest scientific based-survey being done by Gallup in 1936. Since then, surveys have
been used for many purposes. This paper focuses on the use of survey information
obtained from citizens to help make decisions about public service delivery.
In recent years, many national and local governments around the world have been pressed
to measure and report the results of their services. This measurement is intended to make
government agencies more accountable and to provide information to government
managers for improving the effectiveness of their services. Surveys of citizens have
become a major data collection tool for obtaining evaluative date on the quality and
effectiveness of public programs. They have become widely used in many countries both
(a) to evaluate specific public programs in special studies (called "program evaluations"),
and (b) to provide regular information for performance measurement systems used as part
of "managing for results" (also called "results-based management" or even
"performance-based budgeting systems").
Benefits of Conducting Surveys. Surveys of citizens (and of the customers of public
services) are often the only technique available to obtain accurate data for certain
outcomes (results) of services. Such surveys have become popular tools for obtaining
data from citizens include focus group discussions and tracking citizen complaints.
Though useful, focus group discussions and complaints do not provide public officials
with data that are likely to be sufficiently representative of the population. Many people
will not know how to complain to the government, may fear retaliation, do not want
anything to do with the government, or may not feel it would do any good to complain.
Exhibit 1 provides a list of the many types of information that government agencies, or
nongovernmental organizations can get from surveys.
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