The University of Georgia, in conjunction with nine partners, is surveying thousands of Athens residents this fall and winter in hopes of creating a more accurate statistical snapshot of the community.
The surveys are the second phase of the Athens Wellbeing Project, an effort to collect data on issues like health, education, safety and housing that government agencies, nonprofits and other institutions can use to win accreditation, craft policy and apply for grants. The survey will also measure civic vitality—"how powerful or powerless [respondents] feel, how engaged they are with the community,” said program manager Benyamin Gardner.
Originally the brainchild of former Community Connection executive director Fenwick Broyard, the nonprofit was folded into United Way when Broyard left, and the data collected during the first phase didn’t quite make the splash it was intended to. Round 2 will be bigger, though, with 4,500 survey postcards mailed out and student volunteers assisted by neighborhood leaders scouring low-income, Spanish-speaking and senior communities, where response rates tend to be lower. The goal is to reach 10 percent of Athens households; results will be weighted by various demographics to ensure accuracy. Surveys are due at the end of January, and findings will be made public next summer, Gardner said.
“The more surveys we get, the better,” he said. “We’ll be really grateful if people fill them out.”
The 80-question survey includes questions tailored to each of the partners’ needs, as well as more general questions. The partners are the Athens Area Community Foundation, the Athens-Clarke County government, the Athens Housing Authority, the Clarke County School District, Envision Athens, Family Connection/Communities in Schools, Piedmont Athens Regional, St. Mary’s and United Way of Northeast Georgia.
As with the first round, data will be divided along elementary- and middle-school district lines so Local School Governance Teams can see the needs of each individual school.
Envision Athens undertook a similar effort in 2017, collecting information from thousands of residents to create a unified master plan for ACC, CCSD, UGA and other local institutions. But Gardner drew a distinction between Envision Athens and the Athens Wellbeing Project. Whereas Envision Athens was focused on identifying specific actions for each institution to take, the Athens Wellbeing Project is merely providing information for its partners and whoever else might find it useful, not recommending actions, he said.
“What we really hope to gain more than anything is a better, more accurate, more informed picture of the community,” Gardner said.