Open Letter to NYC : Participation Rates in Surveys

Whitby : Council

During late 2022 and significant parts of 2023, North Yorkshire Council (NYC) (and NYCC, its former identity) have been undertaking surveys under the name “Let’s Talk” to understand the position of its residents on many issues. You can view many of these on the Let’s Talk page for NYC. Whilst we welcome consultation with residents, we have concerns over the participation rates from these surveys, and making decisions based on what just 0.2-0.6% of the population have said.

We sent this letter to NYC. If we obtain a reply it will be posted here

Dear Mr Richard Flinton, Cllr Carl Les,

The recent North Yorkshire Council (NYC) Let’s Talk surveys are very welcome; having an effective dialogue with residents is absolutely essential to maintaining the confidence of the public. These surveys were billed as “our biggest ever countrywide conversation to understand how residents feel about their local area and their priorities”. The published survey results provide statements like “Nearly three-quarters (73%) of you are happy of satisfied with your local area as a plce to live and provide valuable information on what you like most about your local area and what you would like to see improved. People were asked what the new council should prioritise over the next three years and the areas or themes most commonly ranked in the top three priorities in the Let’s Talk Local survey are : value for money, health and wellbeing, cost of living, public transport and climate change.  We have already made data available working in many services across the council and Councillors and it will support development of future strategies, services, and future engagement with you.

Whitby Community Network appreciates the significant effort being made in attempting to get a feel for the direction that the new unitary council should start off in. We also appreciate the difficulty in getting high participation levels in such consultations, having recently performed our own consultation with residents of Whitby parish regarding their views on the future direction for the town.

We do, however, need to stress the following points

  • The Let’s Talk surveys do not verify the actual location of a participant, just relying on postcode entry, and so can include data from non-residents purporting to be residents. Similarly there is no apparent IP address uniqueness utilised, so this survey method will suffer from multiple entries from single participants. This is obviously a common problem with internet-based consultations.
  • The participation rates in the various Let’s Talk initiatives have been of the order of 0.2-0.6% of the population of North Yorkshire. The survey with the highest was Let’s Talk Transport which had 3912 responses, for a population of 633000 (2021 Census), and an electorate of ~500000, meaning that 0.6% of the population / 0.78% of the electorate actually participated. A confidence interval of 95% (with margin of error 5%) is certainly met with this sample size, on a county level, and the results can indeed be seen as statistically significant (despite the poor participation rate). Taking the 73% who were “happy or satisfied” (in the above quote) as an example, that equates to 73% of just 3263, namely 2382 respondents (some of whom may be duplicates, see above). That is just 0.376% of the population!
  • Let’s Talk results per borough : Sample sizes are between 190 and 769 per borough. This means that, with the exception of Harrogate borough, the data is inadequate for a confidence interval of 95% (i.e not statistically significant) and should not be used as the basis for decisions.
  • Let’s Talk results per age group : Sample sizes are between 80 and 723 per age grouping. This means that for all age groups up to age 49 the results are similarly not statistically significant and should not be used as the basis for decisions.

We don’t doubt that valuable information has been obtained, however we have significant concerns over the participation rate obtained (0.2-0.6%). Comparing to our own “Vision for Whitby” consultation, where we had a sample size of 601 for a population of 13200, this similarly provided us with a statistically significant result, but it also had a participation rate of 4.6%. While this is clearly better than the Let’s Talk participation rate, we still feel that we ourselves need to aim higher. We have subsequently analysed how we undertook our survey, and have a plan for improving participation rates in any future offerings

We would ask that if North Yorkshire Council is planning on running further surveys, that time is spent on addressing the relatively poor participation rate in all of the Let’s Talk surveys. The desire to be “the most local of all councils” is all well and good, however it is certainly not achieved with the obtained participation. A participation rate of <1% is well below where a council should be aiming, and whilst county-wide results are of use for qualitative purposes, we feel that NYC should be aiming to better capture what a much greater proportion of residents feel, maybe with involvement of Community Networks Partnerships. Please let us know what NYC plans to do to address the level of participation.


Whitby Community Network

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