A survey of Oregon residents applied experimental methodology in order to ensure rural voices are heard. 

Oregon Voices is a survey project that is designed to raise up the voices of Oregonians living in our rural towns, small towns, rural spaces,” said Kasi Allen, the director of Learning and Knowledge Management at the Ford Family Foundation in Roseburg, Oregon. 

Allen said she hopes others will use the unique methodology to gain better insight into rural communities. In this case, the team worked with a sampling house to help generate 500 home addresses in each of Oregon’s counties. 

“It was giving each county an equal chance to show up as opposed to doing a more representative sampling, where the population was distributed across the state,” she said. “And it was an experiment, we wanted to see what happened.”

The least populated county, she added, had the highest response rate. While one of the lowest responding counties is one that makes up the greater Portland area. 

“It was interesting that people did show up when given the opportunity,” she added.

The surveys were offered in both English and Spanish and on paper or online. 

“I really do hope we can have conversations about the methodology as we roll forward,” Allen said. “I believe that if we are going to do research in the United States, that raises up the voices of any community that has been sort of traditionally excluded, we are going to need to alter our methodology.”

Allen said overall, the results shows that the residents of Oregon live in a “complicated world,” that is not “black and white.”

“It’s just an opportunity to get curious and get curious about each other; get curious about neighbors,” she told the Daily Yonder. 

The survey found that rural respondents think there are major hurdles to overcome to create lifestyles that are healthy and affordable. Less than one-third felt they have access to healthy food, while less than 20% felt they have enough medical and dental providers. Only a small portion believe housing is affordable, while more 40% believe housing is unaffordable. 

“Across the state, we are seeing people very worried about affordable housing,” Allen said, adding that there’s a perception that that isn’t a problem in rural parts of the state due to the space. But, in fact, there’s a housing crisis in rural America, too, that was accelerated by the pandemic because people could work from anywhere and many chose rural America, increasing the cost of living. 

As for community concerns, the survey found that 14% believe a lot of people are unemployed, while 28% were neutral on that question. In another question, 27% said they believe families are having trouble making ends meet. 

The foundation will soon begin working on issue briefs, with housing planned to be the first, Allen said. 

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