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By: Megan Nash

In late 2023, a collaborative effort between local institutions and the community of Richmond, VA, yielded insights into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the “Richmonders’ Response to COVID-19: Survey and Report,” conducted by RVA Views, a marketing research collective associated with the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Business and Customer Experience Lab, 810 residents shared their voice through email, social media and targeted ads on the shifts in behaviors and attitudes toward public health, education, economic conditions and community cohesion. 

We turned to VCU Business’ Dr. Jodie Ferguson and Dr. Mayoor (Max) Mohan, marketing professors and executive directors of RVA Views and the researchers behind the community project, to discuss their findings and implications for Richmond’s future.

What is RVA Views, how did it come to be, what do you want people to know about it?

RVA Views is a center in the VCU Business School that provides marketing research and strategic insights services, as well as access to research study participants to partners across Virginia. RVA Views’ focus is on both basic academic research and applied research and incorporates mentorships with undergraduate and graduate student researchers. 

RVA Views was established in 2018 in collaboration with the VCU Business School’s Customer Experience Lab, a behavioral research laboratory that features physiological measurement equipment, including eye-tracking devices. Part of the goal of RVA Views was to support research initiatives by building a broad and diverse database of individuals who participate in paid research studies.   

Tell us about the role of collaboration between RVA Views and the RVA community.

RVA Views features a collective of central Virginians who provide their thoughts and opinions in an effort to understand the experiences of those living in and around Richmond. From time to time, RVA Views will invite this collective of people to participate in studies that vary in scope. 

Some studies, like the Richmonders’ Response to COVID-19 study, will ask questions about lifestyles and attitudes, such as those toward health, education and community involvement. These studies help give Richmonders a voice and help decision-makers better understand feelings and behaviors in the RVA area at a given point in time. 

Also, we work with community partners on projects that aim to identify problems or solutions for marketing dilemmas. For example, RVA Views is currently working with the Richmond Strikers to better understand the economic impact of the Strikers’ Jefferson Cup Tournament, a large-scale soccer event that draws thousands of participants from around the U.S. to the Richmond area every spring. 

What were some of your initial hypotheses going into the COVID survey/report?

We did not have specific hypotheses going into the survey — we were more interested in providing a platform for Richmonders to share their perspectives. Since this was the first survey to ask these specific questions, we wanted to put the questions out there to get a baseline for Richmonders’ responses. 

Were there any challenges or uncertainties the research team faced?

Response rates for surveys can be unpredictable. Just think about how many surveys we are asked to participate in our everyday lives! We offered an incentive of a chance to win one of six $50 gift cards, which helped the response to the survey. However, many people choose to participate in studies like this simply because they want to support a VCU initiative, are curious about the questions asked or just because they want to be heard.

Within the report’s designated categories: Health, Education & Technology, Economic Prosperity and Thriving Communities, were there unexpected reactions or trends the team were surprised by?

The findings that over 44% of Richmonders think the quality of healthcare has decreased since the beginning of the pandemic and 63% think K-12 education has worsened are powerful statistics. Healthcare and education are two driving forces of a thriving community and have implications for all community members. It was encouraging to see that Richmonders report saving more money (over 40% said so) and supporting local businesses (over 86%). This speaks to Richmonders’ thinking about the future and willingness to support community efforts.

How do you foresee the results of your report changing over the next 10-15 years?

So much of central Virginians’ opinions and actions are reactant to our environments and everyday lives. While some of the findings are negative, there are positives coming out of the findings.  The survey findings indicate a negative attitude towards healthcare, however, Richmonders expressed that they will likely seek out more healthcare in the next two years. Healthcare providers have an opportunity to address and improve perceptions with the influx of patients. 

What are some big questions you look forward to addressing in your next research project?

We plan to do another survey within the next year or two. We are interested to see if views change after another year post-pandemic. The pillars of health, education, technology, economic prosperity and community will all still impact Richmonders’ lives. How might perceptions of these pillars evolve? How might Richmonders’ behaviors change in light of what the future brings in the coming months? 

How do you see RVA Views building on its existing strengths?

RVA Views has seen a lot of growth since 2018. The RVA Views collective has grown to the hundreds and our proprietary list of central Virginians has climbed to over 12,000. Multiple students have received research fellowships due to work with RVA Views. Over 1,000 individuals have participated in research data collections in conjunction with RVA Views. Multiple peer-reviewed “A” level publications have been published. As such, we expect to continue to make meaningful strides that provide our many stakeholders with a meaningful platform to engage with the university, its students and the community as a whole. 

For a full overview and insights on community, unity and well-being in light of the pandemic, see the complete RVA Views “Richmonders’ Response to COVID-19: Survey and Report.” Hear and be heard by becoming an RVA Views member to participate in future studies.

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