Robert Manchin, Chairman and Managing Director Gallup Europe. Information on Sout of the City: www.gallup-europe.be
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Gallup can offer cities the tools
to attract the ‘creative classes’
Tann vom Hove interviews Robert Manchin
With contributions by Aurélien Renard and John Chapman
21 October 2008: In a rapidly globalizing world, cities are increasingly competing with each other for the most skilled and talented people. Robert Manchin, Chairman and Managing Director of Gallup Europe, believes that only by understanding the needs of their citizens and by providing them with a high quality of life can cities appeal to the ‘creative classes’. Gallup has developed a strategic decision-making tool, the Soul of the City, which offers a comprehensive benchmark of urban dwellers’ attitudes towards and satisfaction with a city’s governance, socio-economic, sustainability and cultural spheres. In an interview with City Mayors editor Tann vom Hove, Robert Manchin explains the background of the Soul of the City tool and how cities can gain a competitive advantage by using it.
City Mayors: Gallup’s ‘Soul of the City’ programme has been described as a tool to allow municipal governments to gauge how satisfied citizens are with the work of their city halls. Could you briefly describe the programme?
Robert Manchin: The programme has a long history as it has evolved based on the experiences of working with various cities around the world. It dates back to some of the early work done in the US with Alec and George Gallup. Although we were all working in different parts of the globe, we soon realised that the core demands were similar in many cities. As the underlying technology improved, Gallup was able to provide more comparative data that could help in social planning and in the delivery of urban services.
City governments are accountable and Gallup understands that city mayors are more and more considered as political entrepreneurs engaged in a type of ‘living together venture’. As they are trying to ensure social cohesion for their constituents, this tool, the Soul of the City, tracks changes in the most important dimensions of urban citizens’ lives. It can serve both as a strategic planning instrument and as a tool for policy evaluation.
In addition, in the context of increasing the transparency of the democratic process, evidence-based policymaking at the local level is of the utmost importance for the future shaping of our. We also believe that local challenges (which can have a global impact), e.g. new roads, congestion taxes, city centre refurbishments, identifying locations for social housing, etc. cannot be successfully introduced without listening to what residents have to say.
City Mayors: How does the Soul of the City programme differ from other ‘run-of-the-mill’ opinion polls?
Robert Manchin: Most city-level opinion polls are usually related to ad-hoc issues that are on citizens’ minds at a particular moment. Usually these polls are undertaken in order to get the public to focus on a particular topic. The Soul of the City programme, while it enables planners to capture the most pressing and current issues, is a more systematic overview of the various dimensions of city life. It provides benchmarking information on the dimensions that are common in most cities. This indicator-based approach takes account of the systematic elements as well as helping to improve the overall information base. In a sense, it serves as an audit of a city’s non-material assets: emotional energies, loyalties, drivers of engagement, etc. that all serve to make up a city’s vibrant social fabric.
Furthermore, Gallup can provide the tools to help cities build their emotional capital and enhance their liveability in the eyes of their constituents and ultimately overcome today’s local and global challenges. Gallup has developed indicators that enable urban dwellers’ attitudes, satisfaction and experiences to be benchmarked within a city’s governance, socio-economic, sustainability and cultural spheres. They should ultimately help cities to act as better catalysts for economic development, social inclusion and intercultural exchange.
Overall, we do not simply measure the satisfaction of local citizens to help policymakers react on a mid- to long-term basis. We also give them the means to take the right decisions to nurture local talents and attract different categories of people to their cities. In today’s world of greater mobility, cities have an opportunity to be a magnet for the creative classes, tourists, etc. and to provide an environment that will allow a mixture of classes and cultures to live together as harmoniously as possible.
City Mayors: How do you select your sample and how are the interviews conducted?
Robert Manchin: The issues of sampling and methodology are paramount if the aim is to produce reliable and usable information. One particular feature of our method is the use of micro- and macro-data sources. Usually there is plenty of existing demographic and other information for the micro-regions within cities. When we are developing a sampling methodology, Gallup first looks at the available data and tries to match it with digital mapping solutions. These solutions use geo-coding technologies to locate respondents, with anonymity being guaranteed, and provide a more precise coverage of city neighbourhoods. This mapping of the distribution of perceptions at a sub-city level can help local policymakers take the necessary decisions at a micro level with a resulting improved impact for their constituents.
Gallup’s random selection methodology gives every citizen an equal chance to express his or her opinion. Another positive point is that as it allows us to cover all layers of society, our tools allow for a differentiated analysis. We also conduct mixed-mode surveys, because in certain neighbourhoods / cities, it’s easier to have face-to-face access to citizens, while in others that is not the case. Generally, we use randomly-generated telephone samples, as that’s the most practical way to achieve results. We treat the phone numbers and interview answers separately and anonymity is assured.
City Mayors: Given the complexity of some of the topics, to what extent do you explain these issues to interviewees?
Robert Manchin: By design, during the interview, we do not give detailed explanations. The function of these interviews is not to educate the citizens, but rather to take a snapshot of what they know and their judgment at the time. In this way we get a true feedback that might include some misconceptions. There are no good or bad answers in this sense we are talking about the actual opinions, without any assistance from the interviewer.
City Mayors: Do you interviewers have the requisite professional knowledge of the topics under discussion. For example, when asking about the quality of schools, will your interviewers have knowledge of a city’s educational system? Will interviewers also take into account topical events, which could lead to irrational responses? (Example: The alleged rape of a girl by a Romany immigrant in Rome earlier this year.)
Robert Manchin: As well as training our interviewers in the most up-to-date techniques in order to help them face all possible situations, they are also informed about any necessary background information and warned about the possible political sensitivity of certain questions.
Having said that, the impacts of the timing of the interviews and any sensitive subjects that relate to topical events, have to be considered by our researchers who are responsible for a correct interpretation of the answers. Based on their specific needs, these same researchers help our clients with the development of questionnaires, discuss possible methodologies to be used and the topics to be covered, and finally focus on disseminating the results via reports, presentations or our interactive dashboard.
City Mayors: What types of cities would particularly benefit from your programme?
Robert Manchin: Those that would benefit most would be cities that:
• have a strategic vision
• have strong and detailed plans about improving particular aspects of city life
• want to improve their understanding of all the layers of their constituency
• want to improve their knowledge of the complex dynamics behind residents’ satisfaction drivers
• want to enhance a city’s livability for the locals and eventually for newcomers
• need to take stock on the feelings, attitudes and feelings about particular situations, anticipate possible • issues and take the appropriate and effective policy decisions
• would eventually want to communicate results of local surveys to the citizens themselves, to stakeholders and interest groups, to the media and to the world on general.
In our experience, creating and maintaining an on-going measurement system, based on regular feedback from citizens, works best in cities where a consensus exists on overall stakeholder goals.
City Mayors: What do you promise cities that might be interested in signing up to the Soul of the City programme?
Robert Manchin: We would tend to offer them a range of deliverables rather than make promises. Cities would benefit in a number of ways, as they would have:
• a better perspective by comparing local achievements in the various aspects of city life to those in other cities in similar situations. The resulting political debates relating to priorities can be more informed and more dynamic.
• a strategic decision-making tool and a unique benchmarking instrument providing data that can facilitate the work of local social planners and the relevant stakeholder groups. This would allow them to as-sess the level of social cohesion and the accountability of public services even at the sub-city level.
• tailor-made solutions, customised geo-coded maps and a sophis-ticated dashboard, which together would allow an uptodate assessment of the essential constituents of a city’s emotional capital.
• at their fingertips the important data on the four essential domains of a city's liveability: the governance, socio-economic, sustainability and cultural spheres.
City Mayors: Can you describe the results of the programme, using one or two case studies?
Robert Manchin: Within our Soul of the City programmes, one of the most informative was in Rome. There, through our survey’s results, the policymakers identified several needs and issues that they wanted to resolve:
1) The existence of a disconnect between city and citizens:
Results: more than in any other metropolis, the residents believed that Rome was the most stunning city in the world; however, the city had its share of problems with facilities and it lagged behind Paris and London as a place where the “creative elite” were heading. Only about 10% of Romans said it was the best place in Europe to live.
2) The need to check on the “emotional economy” of the city:
Results: for this key driver, only 20% of Romans were optimistic about the future; this compared to results in some of the new EU Member States, where half of the population had an enthusiastic outlook.
3) The need to benchmark results against other cities:
Results: one of the findings showed that Rome, along with Berlin, was more attractive to the young creative class; that was not the case in Dublin and Madrid, where the average citizen was happier than the young “elite”.
4) The need to identify issues and take appropriate actions:
Results: the survey showed that the citizens were less satisfied with basic urban services, compared to corresponding cities, views on public transport and general cleanliness showed that Rome had a major problem; they were happier with their cultural services.
The data were used to deepen understanding of certain key issues, shape new policies and therefore take important decisions at local level. This initiative had taken place some time before the last mayor’s election in Rome.
City Mayors: Mayors and city councilors may maintain that over the years they have established close relationships with their citizens and the various interest groups. Can Soul of the City really offer further insight into residents’ thinking?
Robert Manchin: There is no substitute to the depth of insight that mayors and councillors possess. However, We believe we can help them to be true engineers of local democracy and the architects of cities that will place real value on creating a liveable environment above all other factors. Such polls bring added value and allow decisions to be taken based on the voices of representative samples of the population. Gallup also believes that collecting and sharing information is a vital part of policymaking and a key step in empowering citizens at all levels. Of course, this programme is not a substitute for the on-going involvement and understanding of the most expressive and vocal citizen / interest groups. However, those interest groups attract regular ‘clients’ such as local lobbyists representing industrialists, businesses or the more well-heeled citizens.
In modern city life, the vast majority of citizens are not able to express their opinions and apart from the regular local elections there is no constitutional way of checking the level of popular support on local issues. By using modern social science technologies, we are empowering the citizens who might be outside of the usual political participatory mechanisms.
City Mayors: It appears that you propose to question residents on many highly emotionally-charged topics such as personal safety and immigration. Is your line of questioning able to separate facts from emotional perceptions?
Robert Manchin: The reason we gave our programme that particular title (Soul of the City) is that we don’t believe that we can separate facts from emotional perceptions. If city politicians concentrate on abstract “facts”, they miss something that might be more important for the quality of city life. In our research on citizens’ safety, for example, we found that the perception of personal safety is not closely linked to the overall measure of the subjective quality of life. The relation between the two is not uni-directional. People who live in neighbourhoods that they consider as “unsafe” are more likely to evaluate every other city service differently than those who live in the same neighbourhood but feel safer.
City Mayors: You say you will be able to integrate emotional perceptions with statistical information. Can you describe how this would be done?
Robert Manchin: The technical details are different case by case, depending on the availability of statistical information. In some cities the data is aggregated to a very fine detail and there we would generate a “social map”. If possible we link the aggregated data at the micro-level with our survey data and look at the various linkages. Of course, we would collect data at the individual level in order to facilitate the linkage.
You should understand that perceptions are information, and that a complete picture of the reality can only be developed from a combination of subjective and objective measures. Current academic research has found that many interesting linkages exist between the perceived well-being at an individual level, economic growth and social cohesion. Facts and perceptions are two faces of the same coin.
City Mayors: Urban residents have become less and less homogeneous. The interests and experiences of the old and the young, the well-off and the poor, inner-city and suburban residents, native residents and immigrants are very different. Given the size of your proposed samples (between 500 and 1,000) can you really offer meaningful insight into the thinking of the various groups?
Robert Manchin: You are correct in that the more detailed the analysis among the various social groups constituting the “urban mosaic”, then the greater the need for more sophisticated sampling techniques. Depending on the cities in question, we would design the adequate sample sizes for the required level of detail to be covered. This can be done not only by raising the overall sample size, but also by sampling special subgroups in order to get a more reliable coverage.
City Mayors: Could the Soul of the City programme be used as a pro-active tool rather than as a re-active one? For example, a city with an established largely white population is asked by a potential investor from Asia about possible race relation conflicts.
Well it’s true that the data could act as a kind of scoreboard in terms of the various strengths of cities. As the city profiles are not determined by statistical data alone, they can serve as very strong indicators for local decisions. The availability of engaged, satisfied, committed citizens, for example, is one of the most important considerations that a potential investor might have. Tracking changes in these important dimensions helps the competitiveness of any city.
As to your question about predicting conflicts, well the programme can identify underlying tensions and their evolution over time. In that sense, it does help policymakers to anticipate issues, build hypothesis and crisis scenarios and to take any appropriate measures that can help prevent certain events.
City Mayors: While we appreciate that no case is the same, can you outline what a city would have to invest to take part in / benefit from Soul of the City?
Robert Manchin: There are many kinds of investment. Firstly it would require an investment in time from major stakeholders preferably those who would be interested in a tool that could help in the evaluation of strategic goals. Those same stakeholders would also have to be ready to engage in some of a city’s difficult issues and be ready to listen to opinions that they might not welcome but necessary to hear when shaping new and better policies. In terms of a financial investment, this could vary depending on the required sample size, the type of target group(s) and cities, the complexity of the survey, the length of the commitment, the required depth of analysis and the desired dissemination of results. However for a standard Soul of the City exercise, we would be talking about a reasonable five-figure amount of euros on an annual basis. We would of course be happy to give any interested stakeholder a more precise quote based on their specific needs.