JFed survey moves on to data-crunching stage

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

Field work for the first survey in two decades of the local Jewish community is complete, and the initiative has moved into an analysis phase.

“Things went great,” said Susan Scribner, senior planning and allocations associate with the Jewish Federation. “The researchers were just thrilled.”

Federation officials unveiled plans to conduct the $300,000 telephone survey at the beginning of the year, and workers began making calls in April. Jewish Policy & Action Research (JPAR), which is administering the effort, has completed its calls and is moving into the next stage of the project.

Scribner said the Federation is likely to see data by fall. The results are expected to shed light on Judaic affiliation, identification, practice and community needs. 

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“It seems like the community was actively engaged, and we got generally good feedback from the people who were called,” Scribner said.

The cooperation rate among those contacted was especially high, Scribner said. Ninety-two percent of Jews receiving a call completed the survey of about 75 questions. The exact number of questions varied from person to person because different responses triggered other questions. By contrast, Scribner said, a recent survey in New York had only a 79 percent participation rate.

Ultimately, JPAR talked with 1,016 participants, which slightly exceeded its goal of 1,000. 

David Dutwin, chief methodologist with JPAR, agreed that St. Louis performed well although he could not say what the average participation rate has been for other cities. He said that polling in the general community often has a 50 percent to 70 percent participation rate but that surveys geared towards Jews tend to rate higher.

“The study was at the upper end of cooperation rates we’ve been encountering in Jewish-community studies,” he said. “That’s always nice to see.”

Dutwin said the goal of the research was to cast as wide a net as possible to get a comprehensive picture. That’s especially important because it can be hard to know exactly how to define who is a Jew or who considers themselves a part of the Judaic community.

“That’s one of the interesting parts of Jewish demography right now,” he said. “It has gotten so much more complex in that regard than it was 10 years ago. But it is a great area to research and understand the community better at the same time.”

In the coming months, the data will be searched for errors and cross-tabulated. Data will also have to be weighted based on a mathematical formula becasue participants were drawn from both random- digit dialing and from synagogue or Jewish agency lists. The former method is necessary to find Jews who may not be formally affiliated, but it tends to produce fewer responses. Adjustments to the numbers can help reduce  any possible bias.

Scribner said that the calls went smoothly and that she has heard positive feedback from participants. She did receive a few calls from respondents who wanted to make sure the survey was legitimate. Occasionally,  people complained about being called because they were on no-call lists. Scribner said such anti-telemarketing lists didn’t apply to the survey because nothing was being sold; however, anyone who indicated a desire to not be contacted would have their wishes respected. 

Scribner said the mechanism for releasing the data once they are ready has not been decided. 

“I think we have to look at it very carefully, internally, first and get some expert eyes on it before we are ready to share it with everybody, but it will certainly be shared throughout the community,” she said. “We will probably have at least one, possibly more public town hall meetings.”

Scribner said that data also may be shared in meetings with rabbis, congregation officials and agency heads who helped develop the survey.

“We may want to meet with them again when we have some of the preliminary data just to test it out with them and say, ‘Does this make sense to you?’ ‘What do you think?’ ‘How do you think our programs and policies should change?’ ” she said.