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It’s time to ‘BeHEARD,’ Baltimore; online web panel seeks to shape city public policy | COMMENTARY

The changing skyline of Harbor East stands in contrast to the 75-year-old public housing units of Perkins Homes in East Baltimore.
The changing skyline of Harbor East stands in contrast to the 75-year-old public housing units of Perkins Homes in East Baltimore. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore Sun has partnered with the Schaefer Center for Public Policy at the University of Baltimore to promote BeHEARD Baltimore, an online opinion panel for city residents age 18 or older that could help shape public policy in the future.

Those who sign up at beheardbaltimore.com (click on “Join Now!”) will be sent, via email, an average of two surveys a month on a variety of topics affecting the city; they can be completed on any internet-enabled device — phone, tablet or computer. The results will be compiled into reports by the Schaefer Center and shared with city leaders, as well as The Baltimore Sun and other news partners, and on the BeHEARD Baltimore website.

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The web panel is intended, according to the Schaefer Center, to provide “an independent source for information on what residents think about important policy issues and current events.” Several efforts have already been made to put it together. But earlier attempts to launch the initiative never quite got off the ground, with too few participants to make it work. The hope is that now, when so many of us are living our lives online, will provide an ideal time to relaunch and recruit panelists.

Signing up on the site takes a few minutes; you’ll be asked to pinpoint your neighborhood, to generally describe your household and yourself — including your age, income and political party affiliation — and to provide an email address. The information will be kept confidential, and your contact information will not be sold, shared or rented. Responses will not be linked to you, either; they’re reported in the aggregate, according to the Schaefer Center, whose staff members on the project have at least a decade of experience each in survey writing and analysis.

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The current survey is about coronavirus information sources and the handling of the outbreak by federal, state and city officials, as well as its impact on Baltimore residents. It took about 8 minutes to complete and asked about the taker’s assessment of the city’s response to the pandemic and the performance of the mayor, governor and president; along with their experience with testing, if any, and the stay-home restrictions we’ve all been living under. A couple of open-ended questions let you dig a little deeper into your concerns about the pandemic and its effects on your family, as well as the positive consequences you’ve experienced (some of ours: more time outdoors, greater appreciation of family and friends, no commute).

You can leave the panel at any time and skip any survey you’re sent. The Schaefer Center, a neutral public policy research center that conducts surveys throughout the year, says each of these will take 10 minutes or less to answer. Twenty minutes a month seems a small price to pay to make your voice heard and to potentially change the city for the better.

Of course, it only works if there’s broad participation from every corner of the city — the so-called “Black Butterfly” and the “White L,” and everywhere in between. Every person matters, from the well-to-do retirees in Roland Park to those working several jobs to make ends meet in West Baltimore and beyond. Folks in the latter category likely have the least amount of time to spare, but they also might be the most important people to hear from and the most likely to be affected by the city’s public policy and social support program decisions in the future. So we’re calling on community groups and neighborhood associations to spread the word to make this work.

For more information, go to beheardbaltimore.com or call 410-837-6188.

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The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.

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