Lab gains in community perceptions

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Results of leaders survey released

By Roger Snodgrass

Los Alamos National Laboratory has made significant improvements in the all important “favorable impression” category of an annual opinion survey.

The tracking study by Albuquerque-based Research & Polling, Inc. continues an annual program measuring the laboratory’s perceived performance and relationships with the communities of Northern New Mexico.

The sample is based on interviews conducted from Aug. 24 to Sept. 22 with 224 community leaders from a list of 302 names provided by the laboratory.

LANL Director Michael Anastasio let the cat out of the bag a couple of weeks ago, when he told community leaders at a meeting in Ohkay-Wingeh that the latest study had shown improvement.

“I hope that’s a sign that all the good things we’ve been doing are paying off,” he said.

In fact, the report states, “Over the past several years, Los Alamos Nationa Laboatory appears to have done an excellent job of building relationships with community leaders through Northern New Mexico.”

After a period of declining “favorables” during the years from 2003 through 2006, there have been three years of steady improvements.

In the survey, it is written, “the hard work has culminated in 72 percent of the community leaders surveyed saying they have a favorable impression of LANL, an 11 percentage point increase when compared to last year’s study and a 20 percentage point increase compared to just two years ago. LANL’s efforts to improve communications with the public are paying dividends.”

Community Programs Executive Office Director Kurt Steinhaus said the poll provides a scientific snapshot of a defined class of participants who are representative and indicative of larger communities.

The 64-page scientific survey is supplemented, he said, by a continuous, active pulse taking “by this office and upper management” from a range of meetings and relationships with the community, including feedback and input from a regular series of community leader breakfasts and by being in a “constant listening mode,” – not just with elected officials but in all levels of relationships with the community.

The study grouped community leaders by sector and region. The largest groups were government and educational leaders, followed by economic and business leaders, tribal leaders and special interest groups.

Favorability ratings were highest among educational leaders. Slight differences in favorability perceptions were noticed among regions with Rio Arriba County at 74 percent; Santa Fe County, 73 percent; Los Alamos County; 72 percent, other counties, 69 percent and Taos county, 65 percent.

Among the major problems facing Northern New Mexico, as identified by participants in this year’s survey were, the weak economy (31 percent), a poor educational system (27) percent and lack of good jobs (20 percent) led the list.

Community Programs Deputy Office Director Johnnie Martinez said such rankings influence laboratory decisions.

“A couple of years ago when there was a drought, water was the major concern and that led to the implementation of some major programs to help area communities,” he said.

Despite evident progress in communicating with the public, the authors of the study noted, “many of the community leaders commented on the need for continued work in this area.”

Forty-seven percent of respondents cited newspapers as their top ways of receiving information about Los Alamos National Laboratory. The laboratory’s monthly electronic newsletter, “Connections” was next (37 percent). The electronic newsletter was also named as the preferred way of receiving information about the laboratory.

Six pages of individual comments were included.

Steinhaus said top managers at the laboratory had already been briefed on the results and that a subgroup would analyze the data and prepare an action plan based on the results.