By Meghan Ruble – Engagement Strategist at Bang the Table + former Marketing Supervisor for City of Lakewood
In February 2017 the City of Lakewood, Colorado launched LakewoodTogether.org, their first comprehensive community engagement site powered by EngagementHQ. Our previous experience with online engagement included embedded forms on our City website, posted questions on Facebook and Nextdoor.com, narrated Power Points posted to YouTube, and endless emails with links to SurveyMonkey. All of these outlets were incredibly valuable to us, because they allowed us to meet our residents where they were at – in their cars as they wait to pick their kids up from school, at their desks at work, or on their couch after a long day working multiple jobs. These methods as a collective effort often fell short because the fragmented touchpoints made it difficult to have a cohesive conversation, synthesize information or access meaningful analytic data.
City of Lakewood has recognized for some time that the traditional model of public meetings fell far short in our responsibility to connect with a representative public, so when we were presented with the EngagementHQ solution in late 2016, we jumped at the chance to join Bang the Table’s worldwide community of engagement.
Launching the site required a collaborative effort between Community Resources, the department who owned the site’s first project, Imagine City of Lakewood!, the Information Technology department and the City Manager’s Office. While we were building project tools and collecting photos of the public (because pictures of people are better than pictures of playgrounds and pictures of playgrounds are better than pictures of parking lots) our department head, Allison Scheck, was gathering the necessary buy-in from employees and constituents to launch the site. After the launch, almost like magic, hundreds of points of feedback and brilliant public insights began rolling in.
Just kidding, that didn’t happen – we were consulting on arts, parks and recreation, which are fun topics to talk about but can be difficult to gain traction on as they aren’t necessarily hot button topics. With site deployment, the real work had finally begun. It was time to mobilize. We knew we wouldn’t get feedback on the project if we didn’t get our communities to the site, so we launched a targeted marketing campaign, which involved a project brand, easy to remember URL that redirected to the project site (Lakewood.org/Imagine), and portable swag like branded sunglasses and glossy call to action cards. We wanted all of our residents to feel welcome to participate, so we also created key materials in Spanish.
Next, we made a list of all of the free resources available to us and utilized them fully. In City of Lakewood, those resources included a staff graphic designer and print shop who worked together to produce postcards and beautiful collateral describing the project, a city-produced newspaper Looking at Lakewood (that is delivered to every home in the city) and a full suite of digital resources including city newsletters, Nextdoor and Facebook accounts. All of this is to say that your community engagement efforts will have the best chance for success if the launch of your project or website is viewed as the first step in a planned, purposeful engagement effort.
In addition to all of these great resources, we scheduled a series of four public meetings and pounded the pavement at the city’s summer concert series and other community events. Online engagement should be a complementary, inclusivity-focused portion of your overall strategy – utilizing EHQ does not remove the need to have those public-facing interactions, in fact, they’re as critical as ever. Our in-person experiences were designed to be welcoming and fun, which meant we always served food and created activities that allowed for participation from people of all ages, backgrounds and language abilities. We also treated participants to extra perks like day passes to the Recreation Centers, t-shirts and other giveaway items. While at the meetings and events, staff made it a priority to hand out cards and materials pointing people back to the engagement site. We knew that not everyone has the confidence to speak up in meetings, and that others would appreciate more time to read and digest the information before providing feedback.
The nine-month outreach and engagement effort culminated in October when Allison presented the Imagine Lakewood! Master Plan to city council, complete with more than sixty pages of detailed data and public comment. In our efforts to be completely transparent, every single piece of community feedback was included in the packets for council, and they were so impressed with the department’s showing that they passed the plan unanimously. You can read the Imagine City of Lakewood! Master Plan here, or take a deeper dive with this podcast featuring project lead Allison Scheck.