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Attitude Surveys

Minimum Measure: Public Involvement/Participation

Subcategory: Soliciting Public Opinion

Photo of an example survey by the Yolo County Resource Conservation District in N. California


Surveys of how the public perceives stormwater management can foster better planning and management programs. The results of these attitude surveys can enlighten both stormwater managers and the public on pollution sources, stormwater effects, and control options. Public attitude surveys can also reveal issues important to stakeholders. Program planners can use this information to determine how best to incorporate the public's needs and desires into the overall goals of a stormwater management program.


Attitudes toward stormwater and the best management practices (BMPs) can influence the effectiveness of control measures and clean-up efforts. Determining public perceptions, expectations, and desires is an important place to start. Attitude surveys of interested parties can enlighten stormwater managers about appropriate steps to take and misconceptions to dispel.


Determine participants and methods. The first step of an attitude survey is to determine who should be surveyed and how. People who could be surveyed include the residents of particular communities, local business owners and operators, schoolchildren, and other groups. Surveys should be tailored to the municipality's various population segments to account for demographic shifts by age, ethnicity, and income. This may require several types of surveys and languages to ascertain true attitudes. People could be surveyed by mailing each individual a paper survey to complete and return. They can also be interviewed at strategic locations throughout the community, e.g., at the public library or at shopping centers. An electronic survey could be developed and placed on the Internet, or telephone surveys could be conducted. There are also many different statistical methods for surveying, and one type of method should be chosen. In some cases, one survey may not be sufficient. As cities change, surveys may need to be updated periodically.

Create survey. Once the survey group is identified and the methodology determined, the survey's questions must be prepared. A municipality can determine what information it needs to know by addressing the following questions:

  • Have citizens complained about new restrictions caused by the stormwater program?
  • Do people even know the definition of stormwater?
  • Is the municipality about to raise sewer rates (as a result of the stormwater regulations)?

The Upper Mississippi River Resource Book (MacWilliams Cosgrove Snider Smith Robinson, 1996) is a good resource for determining the types of questions to ask. It presents the results of several surveys of public perception of the Upper Mississippi River and its tributaries. Some of the issues covered by these surveys are listed below. Questions about these and other issues could be included in a stormwater public survey.

  • Agricultural activities
  • Forestry management
  • Changes in a waterbody's hydrology
  • Recreation
  • Public needs
  • Property rights
  • Sources of pollution
  • Present and past water quality
  • Wetlands

Obtain professional assistance if necessary. Municipalities might need professional help in preparing and conducting surveys. Local colleges and extension services can provide such help. EPA also provides survey help in Understanding a Sense of Place: A Guide to Analyzing Community Culture and the Environment (USEPA, 2002).

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Marine Resources conducted a series of surveys to help strategize its Outreach and Education Plan. Questionnaires were developed for a mail survey of randomly selected employees and for a telephone survey of Florida residents, licensed boaters, and licensed saltwater anglers. The results of these surveys helped the Division formulate its goals to educate and inform Florida residents about marine resources (Duda and Young, 1996).

In addition, the City of Memphis, Tennessee has completed four attitude surveys in recent years to determine the effectivenss of its stormwater outreach campaign. Based on the results, the city has been able to further tailor the outreach program to those residents that need additional education on stormwater. You may view their survey results below:

  • 1999 [PDF - 239 KB - 108 pp] Exit EPA Site
  • 2000 [PDF - 238 KB - 107 pp] Exit EPA Site
  • 2002 [PDF - 236 KB - 99 pp] Exit EPA Site
  • 2004 [PDF - 148 KB - 96 pp] Exit EPA Site

Compile survey results. At a predetermined date after the end of the survey, the responses of the returned surveys should be compiled and analyzed. Once the results have been summarized, they can be used in instructional materials to educate citizens and business owners in the area, or they can be used in a municipality's annual report to show change and improvement over the year. The local government, area environmental groups, and others might use the results to develop plans for more effective stormwater management.


Several factors determine the effectiveness of any survey, including the survey's length and the time needed to complete it, the recipient's understanding of the questions, the cost (if any) to return it, and public's interest in the topic. The more straightforward the questions and the easier it is to answer them, the better the response will be. In other words, multiple questions should not be asked on the same issues. The questions should be brief and to the point. If surveys are mailed, return postage should be placed on them to encourage their return.


One of the benefits of conducting a public attitude survey is discovering what people really think. It allows a person not normally involved in an issue, but a stakeholder nevertheless, to voice their opinion. Attitude surveys are also helpful in targeting public education, awareness, and information programs. By understanding what the public perceives and wants, a municipality can better implement community stormwater management.


The greatest limitation of any survey is its response level. Response level encompasses the number of completed surveys returned, the number returned incomplete, and the number returned after the predetermined end date for responses. The validity of the responses, therefore, is also a limitation.


An attitude survey's cost depends on its type. A survey mailed to every resident of a county, for example, would be more expensive than a survey sent to a randomly selected group of people. Furthermore, if the surveys to be returned are pre-postage-paid, the cost is greater. A survey conducted on the Internet, perhaps on the municipality's home page, would cost little to nothing. Its statistical validity, however, would be questionable because it would be hard to control repeat respondents and responses by nonstakeholders.


City of Memphis, Tennessee. 2003-2004. Stormwater Information. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed March 15, 2006.

Duda, M.D., and K.C., Young. 1996. Outreach and Education Strategies for the Division of Marine Resources Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Responsive Management, Harrisonburg, VA.

MacWilliams Cosgrove Snider Smith Robinson. 1996. Upper Mississippi River Resource Book: A Survey of Research on Public Attitudes Toward the Environment. Prepared for the McKnight Foundation by MacWilliams Cosgrove Snider Smith Robinson, Washington, DC.

USEPA. 2002 Understanding a Sense of Place: A Guide to Analyzing Community Culture and the Environment. []

Yolo County Resource Conservation District. 2000. Yolo County RCD Online Questionnaire. [ Exit EPA Site]. Accessed October 27, 2008.


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Last updated on July 31, 2013