Johnson Center for Philanthropy launches city-wide VoiceGR initiative

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Researchers at Grand Valley State University’s Johnson Center for Philanthropy are launching a city-wide effort to capture the voices of a large sample of greater Grand Rapids residents as part of VoiceGR, a project to gather baseline research about the needs and wants of community members.

VoiceGR kicked off September 16 and is designed to gather input on various aspects of life in the greater Grand Rapids area, including health care, education, employment status, racial equality, the economy and more. Researchers hope to use the data to help nonprofits and philanthropic organizations in West Michigan use their resources in the most effective manner possible. 

VoiceGR evolved from the Greater Grand Rapids Community Survey, which the Johnson Center has conducted since the early 2000s. VoiceGR hopes to solicit a larger sample of participants so that organizations using the data can better understand the population down to the neighborhood level rather than looking at greater Grand Rapids as a whole. The Community Research Institute will prepare briefs for each participating organization and release results in December and January. 

The survey will be done online at VoiceGR.org. Researchers have partnered with community-based organizations to provide free, easy access to community members who may not have a computer or internet connection at home. The Community Research Institute is partnering with the Grand Rapids Community Foundation to expand the initiative. 

“Most social service agencies in the community do their own individual surveys of small populations, but no one has done a large, city-wide survey to assess basic needs,” said Jerry Johnson, director of research for the Johnson Center’s Community Research Institute. “This is a larger sample size, and we are confident we’ll be able to establish a much more accurate baseline of what residents want by capturing all of the voices in the community.”

Organizers of VoiceGR are working with large area employers to encourage them to ask employees to take about 20 minutes to fill out the complete survey. Several iPad minis will be raffled off to respondents as an incentive for taking part in the survey. 

Jodi Petersen, senior researcher at the Johnson Center’s Community Research Institute, will lead VoiceGR, along with a team of researchers at the Center with expertise in the areas of education and community development.