CARBONDALE – More than 30 SIU Carbondale students will begin canvassing neighborhoods, starting this weekend, to ask residents several key questions about their experiences living here with the hopes of providing information that can move the city forward.
The project was “designed with the particular problems of Carbondale in mind,” said Scott McClurg, a professor of journalism and political science and one of five faculty members involved in the extensive research project.
In addition, four doctoral students and about 35 undergraduate students in journalism, political science, sociology and other fields will be involved in the project.
McClurg said the students will attempt to survey about 1,000 Carbondale residents at their homes about issues the city is facing, including questions about economic development, particularly in the downtown area; relationships with police officers; race relations; and issues surrounding the university’s relationship with the community.
The project will also seek to survey about 300 community leaders, including business, political, religious and media representatives.
He said the students will go into neighborhoods in teams of two in the early evening hours and on weekends. McClurg noted that the survey takes about 15 minutes, and is voluntary and anonymous. He said names are collected to ensure the integrity of the study, but will not be published or publicly discussed. The surveying is expected to run into late April.
Gary Williams, the Carbondale assistant city manager for economic development, said he’s excited about a project of this scope that could help better guide city officials in their interactions with citizens.
“I think it’s a great project,” he said. “I’m anxious to see what the outcome is. I have an interest in attitudes in constituents and members of the public. I think as a public person, it’s incumbent upon us to know what those attitudes are so we can hopefully make decisions that are the most democratic.”
The study is expected to be funded by several sources of university dollars and possibly with a grant from the National Science Foundation.
McClurg said the project aims to hit all three missions of the university: research, teaching and service to the community. He hopes, in the fall, that those involved can present preliminary findings to city officials, civic clubs and other interested groups.
Phillip Garee, a doctoral student in political science department and project team member, said part of the study’s aim is to study concepts of power and influence. He said the survey of prominent people should show who’s influencing whom, who people get advice from, and who prominent people interact most with, among other things.
It’s not about pinpointing power brokers by name, he said, but more generally looking at what makes Carbondale tick.
“We’re trying to essentially see how this local community works,” he said.
Participants will be read the questions and be asked to select from a series of choices. The survey includes one open-ended question, asking residents what else is on their minds that the survey didn’t cover.
McClurg said the students will attempt to avoid stopping by homes during dinner time or too late at night. He said, if it proves fruitful, the team might consider replicating the survey in other Southern Illinois communities.