Wellington hosted two meetings this month to gather public input on its proposed Equestrian Master Plan, and the hot-button topic at the meeting Monday, April 23 was the methodology being used to carry out the process.
Though Wellington was hoping to get residents’ opinions on the equestrian community, several residents expressed concern with the survey used to gather opinions from the community, as well as the involvement of Florida Atlantic University.
“Unless you can prove to me that your methodology was accurate, I won’t believe your results,” said Marcia Radosevich, a member of the Wellington Equestrian Preserve Committee.
In an effort to update its master plan, Wellington has been seeking input from the community — both equestrian and non-equestrian — to help map out the future of the Wellington Equestrian Preserve.
Already, Wellington has surveyed about 400 people at local equestrian venues and on the bridle trails, said Michael O’Dell, who is overseeing the project.
“The people we surveyed were across the board,” he said. “They were riders, both professional and amateur. They were spectators. They were residents. They were people who were just in town for one or two days.”
O’Dell noted that Wellington has been meeting with people throughout the community but wanted to give an additional opportunity for residents to give their opinions.
“We want to see what you think about what we’ve been doing here,” he said.
Several residents expressed concerns about the surveys, wondering who had written them.
Wellington asked FAU’s Urban & Regional Planning program to help create and administer surveys about Wellington’s equestrian community, FAU Professor Dr. Jaap Vos explained.
“The only thing we’re interested in is getting as many people’s opinion as we possibly can,” he said. “We are trying to do that as best as we possibly can. I have no bias. I have no agenda, except trying to get the best information.”
The survey was created by FAU faculty and Equestrian Preserve Committee members, he said.
But several residents said they felt the questions were leading, that not enough people had been surveyed, and that results may have been skewed by people looking to influence Wellington’s equestrian future. “Why don’t you let the people write the questions?” asked resident Bart Novak.
Vos said he did not think the questions were leading.
He explained that the survey asked people to rate their feelings toward a statement from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree” and from “very important” to “not important.”
“It had statements like ‘The Village of Wellington supports the equestrian community,’” he told the Town-Crier after the meeting. “Or ‘The bridle paths are not properly connected.’”
Vos explained that a strong statement that leans one way or the other is needed to elicit an opinion.
“When you’re asking if someone agrees or disagrees, you don’t want to have a statement that they have no feelings toward,” he explained. “You want to make it as simple as possible. You want to have some positive and some negative statements for people to respond to.”
The next set of statements, he said, asked people to gauge how important an issue was, topics ranged from bridle trails to traffic and beyond.
The last section was free response.
“It was open-ended questions,” he said. “And at the end, people were asked if there was anything else they wanted to add.”
The surveys were administered randomly, he said, but people were also allowed to volunteer to take the survey. The survey distinguishes, however, those who were randomly sampled from those who volunteered in order to keep data from being skewed.
“There are people who come up to us and say they want to take the survey,” Vos said. “Immediately, when we start the survey, it asks us if the person is a sample or a volunteer. You note that they are a volunteer.”
This method will allow him to look at the difference in answers between those who volunteered for the survey and those who were randomly asked, Vos said. “We will be able to see if there is a difference in how the people who volunteered answered,” he said.
Some residents asked why the surveys weren’t issued electronically, to reach more people. But O’Dell said that answers were more likely to be skewed through electronic means.
“Obviously electronic media is the easiest way for us to get this out to the population,” he told the Town-Crier. “But with the environment we were working in, we worried those results could be skewed very easily by the technology that was out there. We felt as though the best approach would be to do the face-to-face surveys.”
Though several residents noted that there was no way to stop someone from taking the survey twice, O’Dell said he felt that an electronic option would greatly increase that risk.
“When you weighed out the opportunities of someone skewing the survey from a technological perspective versus face-to-face, I think we were better off going face-to-face,” he said.
Radosevich said she thought that the process had not been transparent and asked Vos if he would allow the public to see his methods. He said that he would.
The next step, O’Dell said, would be to analyze the data from the surveys and the meetings with residents to try to find some common ground.
“The whole focus is to find commonality amongst all our residents,” he said. “Once we find commonality, we will begin to purse an actual master plan.”
Residents will continue to be able to provide input throughout the process. “We’re going to bring it back to the community and talk to them,” O’Dell said.
Residents looking to voice their opinion can e-mail Dr. Jaap Vos at firstname.lastname@example.org.