BeHeardPhilly wants to hear the community’s voice

BeHeardPhilly is a survey research system that works to gather Philly voices.

BeHeardPhilly phone interviewer Kayla Johnson completes surveys in the organization’s office in the Entertainment and Community Education Center on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 15th Street. The survey program gathers voices from all across the city to weigh in on social issues. BILIN LIN FOR THE TEMPLE NEWS

In BeHeardPhilly’s conference room, a stack of flyers reads, “One City, Many Voices.”

BeHeardPhilly, the first citywide survey panel in the country operated by Temple’s Institute for Survey Research, was formed last November. The group wants to survey Philadelphians about social issues like trusting government and living a healthier life.

Heidi Grunwald, the managing director of BeHeardPhilly and ISR, said BeHeardPhilly is “specializing in urban, transient and hard-to-reach populations” and wants to amplify the voices of marginalized communities in Philadelphia.

“Anyone’s voice that is underrepresented gets weighted up, and anyone’s voice that is overrepresented gets weighted down,” Grunwald added.

BeHeardPhilly’s survey research system is based on an opt-in approach. By opting-in, people choose to be surveyed by either phone, email or text. Participants can also tell BeHeardPhilly how many times a month they want to be surveyed.

The team includes six full-time members, part-time graduate students, phone room interviewers and people canvassing neighborhoods.

BeHeardPhilly held its first survey in November in Germantown and had successful response rates, a rationale they used to determine there is a demand for citizens to publicly voice their opinions in Philadelphia, Grunwald said.

BeHeardPhilly attracted attention from the city’s government after it had several thousand participating members.

For its current project, BeHeardPhilly’s partnered with Mayor Jim Kenney to ask Philadelphians how they feel about the public services they pay for, like waste management, schools and the water department.

BeHeardPhilly also partnered with The Philadelphia Citizen, a civically engaged digital news organization, for polls on the mayor’s soda tax proposal, parking on the median of South Broad Street and the public’s knowledge of poverty in the city.

“What they’ve been able to do for us is very quickly and very efficiently gauge public opinions,” said Roxanne Patel Shepelavy, the executive editor of The Philadelphia Citizen. “They are able to obtain public opinion in a timely manner, so that real change can happen.”

In an effort to make the surveys more accessible, the team has launched a bilingual survey for Spanish-speaking citizens. BeHeardPhilly wants to include more languages as well, but it is an expensive process requiring numerous translators, Grunwald said.

The team has been reaching out to groups like 900 AM-WURD, a local African-American-owned-and-operated radio station, and organizations and businesses from Chinatown to gain more access to voices in these populations.

“We are trying to forge relationships and partnerships with groups that allow us access to the populations we don’t currently have,” Grunwald said.

She added that the organization wants to create an option on their website for researchers and the community groups they partner with to see live survey response rates.

BeHeardPhilly has not conducted any surveys in North Philadelphia, but the team has spoken with Temple about a possible survey of community residents involving the $126 million proposal for an on-campus football stadium.

As the project grows, BeHeardPhilly has a goal to reach 10,000 Philadelphians and build more efficient technology to make the survey process as simple as possible. The program is creating a captive audience for people who are interested in having their voices heard and participating in other research endeavors, Grunwald said.

“Creating this more civically engaged mission has helped people feel part of something bigger than just themselves,” Grunwald added. “This is you, your city, your neighborhood and you have some buy in here.”

London Bogden can be reached at

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