Monday, April 11, 2016

Surveys, Noise, and the UNA's April Board Meeting

On the agenda for the UNA Board meeting of April 12 is one major item that has dogged the UNA for nearly half a decade: disruptive noise caused by a poorly thought out playground installation in Iona Green.  I'll sadly have to miss the discussion and debate of this meeting.  I'll be away at a research meeting focused on collaborative research partnerships between Universities and Indigenous communities.

If I were at the meeting I would be voting to remove the playground installation in Iona Green.  I suspect that the motion will pass with most other directors voting to keep the playground as it is. I have some comments below related to the meeting package.

My first comment is a general note on the interpretative weight given to two surveys in the materials prepared by UNA staff as part of their recommendations to the Board (one on Iona Playground Noise and the other on Hawthorn Car-rental disruptors).  In the Iona Playground Noise survey it is commented that the UNA staff took an objective position and that while the majority of people said nothing the outcome of the survey is seen as a strong expression of community sentiment (at least it was in the board package that I received).  However, in terms of the quantitatively larger number of people who responded to the car-rental disruption issue the staff report says that the results are not sufficiently representative so that therefore no decision can be made. 

My point here is that we can’t have it both ways. Either both results of the online community consultations are considered  reasonable expressions of community sentiment or both are considered statistically insufficient. 42 folks responded to the noise and 121 respond to the car-rental issue.  Yet the car rental consultation is considered not statistically relevant and the noise respondents are taken to be a fair assessment of community voices. 

More embarrassing for the analysis is that no open call online survey can be considered statistically significant (in terms of representing a population)  unless one has a clearly defined and managed sampling method. By their very nature these kinds of open participation consultation surveys can only give an indication of sentiment.  Dismissal of the car-rental survey results is based on a fallacious logic as is the acceptance of the majority view expressed in the noise survey.  Ultimately this is pseudoscience and we should do our best to avoid it.

If we want a proper, reliable survey then we need to set up a rigorous sampling method. As a testing the waters mechanism online consultation tools help provide some information that can assist us in making our individual, and ultimately Board, decisions. But it is important that we are all clear on what is being said in these matters.  The two consultation surveys presented side by side provide empirical evidence that the data (and really, it isn’t data but ineffectively gathered opinions) are being interpreted in a way that is consistent with specific underlying assumptions: (1) to keep the playground and (2) to do nothing with Car2Go. 

If I were present here is how I would vote on the matters presented and why.

B:2 – vote against the motion. The committee of reverends (who represent the theological interests) were rather disingenuous with their involvement in this entire process from the bible quote about children they shared at the latest public consultation and earlier in the process with their eager desire to make as much money as possible in the Theological Precinct and thus squeeze as much density as they could out of the area with little concern to the long term implications.  UBC Planning facilitated this and the result is a very poorly designed area on Iona Green that is a noise chamber no matter how it is configured.  Despite the planning process prior to the set up of the playground the outcome has not been positive. Just because there was widespread discussion previously doesn’t mean the decision is a correct one in hindsight.  It would seem that a great deal of support for the playground comes from residents at some remove from the ill effects of the noise (not all, just it would appear most). This is an issue that has polarized residents in the area and that polarization has been facilitated by the UNA’s initially dismissive attitude to those making complaints about the noise and then the inability of the Board to make an early clear and decisive decision.  From discussions (what has been said and how it has been said) I will assume that the majority of the board will vote to keep the playground in place.  This is a situation in which I think that what may well be an unpopular decision is in fact the correct decision: Vote to remove the playground.

In the event the playground does stay then there needs to be a more concerted program to manage and create positive community engagement in this area.  

The other issues on the agenda are, well actually, there really aren't any other items on the agenda.