The Soul of the Community study, a project of Gallup and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, explored how residents feel about their communities. The three-year study in 26 communities focused on the emotional side of the connection between residents and their communities, examining factors correlated with loyalty to and passionate feelings about place. The answers may help communities better understand ways to attract and keep the talented workers that help cities thrive.
The study’s results offer creative new ways to approach community development. Community leaders can use the study’s findings to maximize their community’s strengths and address challenges that may improve residents’ satisfaction and help draw talented workers to their city.
Gallup interviewed a random, representative sample of 400 adults (age 18+) in each of the 26 communities where Knight Foundation invests – nearly 14,000 people each year and culminating in 2010. In that final year, 15,200 interviews were conducted, with 1,000 conducted in eight focus communities. The 2010 study also included 200 interviews among residents ages 18-34 in the focus communities to give us more information about that age group. Overall data were adjusted to ensure an accurate representation of the real demographic make-up of each community based on U.S. Census Bureau data. The surveys were conducted in English and Spanish. We studied 11 domains that were associated with self-reported feelings about community at varying levels:
- Aesthetics: physical beauty and green spaces
- Basic services: community infrastructure
- Civic involvement: residents’ commitment to their community through voting or volunteerism
- Education systems
- Emotional wellness: the mixture of mental and physical well-being
- Leadership and elected officials
- Local Economy
- Openness/welcomeness: how welcoming the community is to different people
- Social offerings: opportunities for social interaction and citizen caring
- Social capital: social networks between residents
Perceived strength of social offerings, openness and aesthetics were most highly correlated with measures of community satisfaction in all the 26 communities we studied.