SCA Census 2010: Separating Fact from Myth

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By Lady Mary of Montevale
Features Reporter

If you are interested in knowing more about the SCA Census of 2010, how it was conducted and what some of the results are, try to make it to AS 7 on Tuesday at 4 PM in order to meet members of the Census committee and ask them questions. After an introduction made by Committee Chair Ysabeau of Prague (Barony of Bryn Gwlad, Ansteorra) in which she will go over the methodology for the census and discuss results and some of the key findings, the floor will be opened for a question and answer session.
Anyone is welcome to attend this meeting, whether you are a current member of the SCA or not and whether or not you responded to the census last year. As always, please check at A&S point in case there has been a change in the time and/or location of this meeting.
Background on the SCA Census of 2010: The Census Committee was created and acted as an independent entity (separate from the Board of Directors) to design a survey, gather information, organize the results, and then offer insights and make recommendations to the BoD that will be of use to the organization.
The 2010 Census (and yes, it is actually a survey, not a population-counting census) went on line August 1, 2010 to gather responses and closed on December 1, 2010. According to the “Core Key Findings” document released on July 26, 2010, a total of 17,578 usable responses were received. The actual total number of responses was slightly higher since some early beta-testers of the online system timed out before being able to complete the entire survey. The decision to call it a “census” was made for a number of reasons, one of which was the fact that 2010 was a census year in the United States. The SCA 2010 Census elicited responses world-wide.
Committee member Max von Halstern (Shire of Sangre de Sol, Trimaris) said the intent of the census is to get an accurate picture of where the organization is today. “We want to distinguish myth from fact regarding the SCA experience,” he said.
The members of the committee may have all been volunteers, but they are a very long way from being amateurs. The 20 people on the Census Committee were all selected on the basis of resumes they submitted. All of them are SCA members; most of them are professionals in the fields of data collection and analysis with decades of experience between them. Some are Ph.D.’s, and their modern-world jobs run the gamut from academia to both public and private sectors. They were not selected for the committee on the basis of any of their SCA ranks, awards, or years of membership, but because of their professional qualifications.
The initial release of results from the Census was placed on the SCA web site on July 26, 2011. You can view it there in a normber of formats. There is an expository summary, “Core Key Findings,” with bulleted highlights which is a quick read. There is a “Core Presentation” in the form of a Power Point presentation which can be downloaded as either a Power Point or a PDF document. It presents the data primarily in a graphic format. Admittedly, it is 61 screens in length, but it is done in a very understandable design. At a later date, the committee’s recommendations to the BoD and additional data summaries will also be released to the SCA web site. Work is still being done on identity security before the release of any raw data.
Some responders undoubtedly determined the identity security problem existed even as they were completing the survey sometime last fall. Max von Halstern explained that almost everyone who responded can be recognized by about four points of data, some by less. Part of the delay in releasing any results from the survey was caused by the need to prioritize anonymity over speed when working with the data.
Was it a “good” survey? No survey is perfect, but the committee members are quite pleased with the way it worked out. Ysabeau admitted “it was better than I thought we would get.” And Max described it as “an unqualified success for an experiment.” That is, an experiment in the sense that nothing like that had ever been done for the SCA before and no one was quite sure how many people would actually respond. Were 17,000 responses enough? Absolutely. Nationally-known professional polling companies routinely make statements about the entire U.S. on the basis of only 1,000 responses. And don’t forget that some of the SCA 2010 Census Committee members have worked/or still work for just such companies.
Ysabeau feels that there was sufficient breadth and height achieved in the responses: breadth across and outside of the entire membership and former membership; height in terms of responders’ ranks, awards, and number of years in the SCA. There may be an inherent bias in the survey since the results cannot help but be based on those people who chose to respond. She feels, however, that this is a positive bias since it favors those people who care enough about the SCA and their experiences with it to complete a survey.
“A lot of people took this as their opportunity to say something,” she said. If you are wondering whether or not anyone bothered to read the open-ended responses and comments responders were able to type in while taking the survey, the answer is yes. In fact, it may have been read several times in the course of various kinds of data being analyzed and compared. Ysabeau, as committee chair, read every single written response that was submitted. “People were being exceedingly honest with their feelings,” is how she described it. “I sometimes felt as if I was part of a confessional.”
Is that level of honesty appreciated? Yes, it is, even if some of the open-ended responses were so explicit it was difficult to know how to categorize them. Things like why people joined, why they left, and why they came back or didn’t are all reasons why the survey has been a success and are part of what Max von Halstern calls the separation of “factual analysis from anecdotal belief.”
Come to the meeting on Tuesday afternoon to learn more about the SCA 2010 Census and to get your questions answered.