Local government is going through a period of considerable change in a number of European countries, including France and Britain, as the nature of central-local relations changes. While Britain is centralising power and decision-making, France is devolving these away from Paris. In both countries, however, effective resource management and improving the quality of local public services are high on the agenda of local authorities. There is growing recognition that now, more than ever before, local government needs to know about customer attitudes and expectations. Local authorities are coming increasingly to recognise the practical role survey research can play in monitoring service delivery, in responding to the opinions of both users and non-users of services, and in improving customer care. This paper explores recent research conducted for local authorities in Britain and France. Case histories are used to illustrate the ways in which research is providing a reliable tool for decision-making in both countries. The paper focuses on the use made of survey data by clients keen to respond to changing local needs, with particular reference to the problems facing rural areas, which are not always recognised by central government. The paper demonstrates how research has provided a springboard for action, and provided cost-effective guidance to local planners and policy-makers in both France and Britain.