MDB Insight Blog

Community Engagement: Why Scientific Sampling Matters

In this week’s #WednesdayswithMDBInsight post Chris Bandak, EVP Market Research & Analytics, shares his thoughts about clearing the fog on sampling methodologies (and, as always, a few thoughts about coffee).

We know how important citizen engagement is for’s a valuable way to collect and disseminate information. But when it comes to understanding preferences, perceptions and satisfaction levels among citizens, what’s the best avenue?

With so many available options, what should communities rely on for measuring all-important citizen satisfaction? Open online surveys? Engagement software? Telephone interviews? Panels? Something else?

It comes down to two basic concepts that are important in making a selection: scientific vs non-scientific sampling methodologies.  

  • Scientific sampling ensures that the results are representative of the total population at large….data represents everyone, even those people who are unlikely to voluntarily voice their opinions
  • Non-scientific sampling is good for getting qualitative feedback, or for sharing or communicating information…this data does not represent the community at large and lacks the inclusion of those citizens who just won’t be bothered to go out of their way to participate

Here’s a question that often comes up regarding the use of scientific methodologies: “I understand we only interviewed 750 people, and that’s only .2% of our population. Next time could we be more inclusive?”

The magic in scientific samples is the very principle that data representing the entire population can be captured with only a small sample of the population. Increasing the sample size does not make the survey more representative, it only adds cost and slightly decreases the margin of error. 

Some still believe (and I’ve actually heard this) “I can go to the local donut shop and hear from my citizens”. This thinking is flawed and is inherently biased. And with today’s accessible and affordable engagement options, communities don’t need to cut corners or avoid utilizing the latest available methods.

The key to successfully communicating with and understanding your Screen Shot 2020-09-16 at 10.33.02 AMcommunity is in combining  these techniques to your greatest advantage. Selecting the right method for each of your engagement goals will help to ensure the results you get are the ones that will actually prove valuable in telling the story behind what your citizens feel is important.

I’m always happy to discuss these options and to assist communities 

looking to select the right approach among scientific and non-scientific alternatives.

To learn more about Chris and the other members of our team, go to

Chris 2018

Our Wednesdays with MDB Insight posts feature the thinkers and doers on our team sharing ideas and talking about what’s important to us as professionals. We have very diverse backgrounds and a range of interests to share with you. We hope you’re enjoying these posts and that you will join the conversation with us and let us know what’s on your mind mid-week.

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