By Mark James & Pete Julius

A common problem pesters many economic development organizations dedicated to a business retention strategy: understanding the needs and values of their own communities. Gathering information from hundreds of local businesses or stakeholders requires significant time and resources. With advances in technology, this daunting task has become much easier. One of the technology solutions to this communication problem is the use of web-based surveys.

One of the most advanced and powerful web-based survey and communication tools is named i-OP. i-OP has developed a Java-based applet that allows for a virtual dialogue via the Internet. This extremely sophisticated web tool sends out an email notification to local businesses and invites them to part take in a survey. From there, respondents can direct the interaction by responding to only those questions pertaining to them, while the applet virtually directs them to other questions based on their response. In this more conversational interaction, respondents are asked for more detail on issues they feel are important, not just a stock set of questions, appropriate or not.

Sophisticated results emerge for the local economic development organization. Response graphs are automatically produced on each question, cross tabulations can be run, and other data such as average time to complete and responses to open-ended questions are automatically provided.

This technology makes what used to be a long, drawn-out process into a rather simple and innovative approach to understanding a local community. In addition, community leaders can conduct the survey at their convenience – making it a tremendously useful tool for both parties. Should you want to consider using i-OP in your program, please contact Mark J. James with ED Solutions, Inc. at or 614.792.9102.