For the last 18 academic years, the Citizen Society Research Lab (CSRL) at Lethbridge College has been doing what it does best – asking Lethbridgians and Albertans what they think.
For the most part, they did it how they’ve always done it – more than 40 different times since 2001, in fact. During the fall and winter semesters, students enrolled in 19 different courses picked up the phone and asked. They asked about carbon levies and rebates, about off-highway vehicles and camping restrictions, about voting intentions, curbside waste and recycling programs, environmentally sustainable agriculture and more.
But a few things were different this year. Since long-time Lethbridge College instructor Dr. Faron Ellis took on the role of CSRL Research Chair in 2016, the number of students involved in those calls more than doubled – increasing from 198 students in 2015-16 to 427 students this past year – while the number of data collection shifts filled nearly doubled from 274 shifts in 2015-16 to 535 shifts this past year.
And the CSRL tried out a new form of polling this year for a special project with the Lethbridge Police Service. “Lethbridge Police Service Chief Robert A. Davis loves data,” says Ellis. “Rather than holding town halls or using other more conventional feedback mechanisms for its business planning, LPS asked us to conduct an online study of its stakeholders.”
Ellis explains that online surveys are different from the telephone-based opinion polls the students typically work on, as they don’t give everyone in the population an equal chance to respond. Rather, they are built for targeted groups to give representative feedback from that group. “We ended up with about 1,300 stakeholder email addresses and more than 400 responses,” says Ellis. “The patterns looked good and we were able to verify them in a number of ways.” With such success the first time out, Ellis is looking to work with other organizations who might benefit from this kind of online model. The responses to that first online survey – like the responses to the other 188 reports the CSRL has released since 2001 – can be found on the college’s website (check out learn.lc/csrl).
Initially developed as a way to engage students in his Local Government class in applied research, the CSRL has flourished under Ellis’ leadership to become a nationally-recognized, award-winning quantitative public opinion service provider.
Using omnibus surveys conducted by college students each semester, the CSRL measures public opinion on a variety of issues that are of interest to college students, faculty, industry partners and community organizations. It’s made Lethbridge “possibly the most over-surveyed city in the world,” Ellis says with a laugh, adding that he is grateful to the people who take the time to share their opinions with his students.
One project they’ve been working on for two years included questions about Albertans’ use of massage therapy and whether there was support for the establishment of an Alberta college of massage therapists. In the end, the surveys showed great support for the creation of a professional college, and work is now underway to make that happen. The CSRL report and a paper coauthored by Ellis with Rosemary Shannon, Brent Gaudreau and Judy Long now form an integral part of the Massage Therapists Association of Alberta’s submission to the provincial government. “It’s social science applied research in its most pure form,” says Ellis.