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Civic Engagement, Surveys Come Together in Polco-NRC Merger

By combining NRC’s scientific surveys and database with Polco’s communication and dashboard capabilities, executives hope to develop a faster way for local governments to gauge public opinion.

National Research Center Inc. and Polco, two companies in the business of gauging public opinion, have decided they could do it better together.

NRC announced its merger with the Wisconsin-based civic engagement platform last week. A news release said NRC’s expertise and database from years of scientific research, combined with the communication functions and speed of Polco’s civic engagement platform, could yield faster ways for state and local governments to collect and assess constituent feedback.

NRC touts itself as a “gold standard” for public-opinion research in government, with 25 years of experience conducting surveys for performance measurement, budgeting, strategic planning and decision-making, and a database containing hundreds of thousands of resident opinions. Polco, which formed in 2015, has tripled in size the past two years and worked with governments in more than 23 states.

Polco CEO Nick Mastronardi said NRC is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Polco that will retain its core products and capabilities, while turning its focus to what their research and development labs can do together. He hinted at the possibility of new products, teasing more announcements by the end of 2019, but said the merger is really about the complementary potential of what the two companies already do.

“I think it was inevitable that at some point, communications technology and surveys for performance management come together,” he said. “There are a couple methodology shifts that are happening. We’re not going to force them — I think what NRC has been doing has been phenomenal — but in the long run, digital delivery of some of their surveys through Polco’s online verified platform makes a ton of sense. I think being able to drill down in the results through some of Polco’s dashboard capabilities makes a ton of sense. I do think there are some capabilities with being able to do surveys online, but still verified, more frequently, that lets you do shorter surveys more often, [that] has some real potential.”

Mastronardi stressed that while there is no shortage of unscientific ways to gauge public opinion, those don’t always produce actionable insights, or come with a portal to work with citizens on the back end.

“A lot of cities, to facilitate their communications, have been using tech platforms that weren’t built for that — in particular, Facebook and SurveyMonkey, and both those have had some negative consequences for cities. Neither of those facilitate a civil-structured dialog, and Polco is a civic communication tool built for those environments,” he said. “Polco’s architecture essentially builds, for a city, a digital standing panel, and that’s the best method, in the long run, for scientific analysis. And it’s fast and digital. So I think we’re both kind of looking at that endgame and excited about it.”

Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.