How online engagement connected local government to community in Baytown, TX

Community connections that are forged through digital engagement result in rich feedback, data-driven project decisions, and a more cohesive government.

“We are really here to create space for a two-way conversation.” – Sabrina Martin, Community Engagement Coordinator, City of Baytown

In an early stage of using their platform, City of Baytown staff received over 700 survey responses; a result exponentially higher than could be reached through their open houses or in-person meetings in the past. When the City launched a public art contest for columns to be placed around the community, they were astounded to receive 800 votes in the contest.

Prior to launching Baytown Engage, City staff received 55 responses to a particular survey. When using the digital platform to survey that same area later, City staff were thrilled to receive over 350 responses. In one year, just months after the initial launch, Baytown Engage received 30,000 visits.

An experimental and innovative drive moves a city towards online engagement

Before implementing EngagementHQ, the City of Baytown, Texas lacked a community engagement team and a dedicated process for public involvement. Their Public Works department occasionally hosted open houses for the public, but with a large majority of the town being shift workers, evening meetings didn’t work for many people. Additionally, they didn’t find social media outreach to be the best method for their communications.

Upon hiring community engagement staff, the city knew they now had a shepherd for their public communications, which had been a goal for years. The COVID-19 pandemic made it clear that engagement was going to look different moving forward, and staff looked for an online solution for bringing their residents together on local projects.

The City of Baytown was ready to experiment and be innovative in its approach to public involvement.

Online spaces create listening and far-reaching dialogue

The long-term buy-in on public projects comes from truly listening to a community.

The city of Baytown launched Baytown Engage in September 2020 and soon after, they realized the benefits of the solution for their team, and for the community.

“The reporting tools give [the data] to us nice and neat. Which makes it easier for us to relay that information to City Council, change our marketing tactics, or just quickly check on a project for current statistics. It’s very friendly to use.” – Sabrina Martin

In an early stage of using their platform, staff received over 700 survey responses; a result exponentially higher than could be reached through an open house. They saw the potential for Baytown Engage to empower more voices in their community through a platform that was available 24/7.

“We were blown away that we were actually meeting people where they are. That’s been a big part for our community — they’re seeing that we are being transparent, that we’re open, and that we’re responding in a timely manner that’s helpful for them.” – Sabrina Martin

Soon they experienced a big win by placing details of their comprehensive plan on Baytown Engage and receiving feedback from the community. After that, internal departments began to rely on the platform for interaction with the public.

“We taught [staff] that it’s for two-way dialogue, and you have to want something from the public for it to make sense in the end. Thoughtful interaction points result in high-value data.” – Jamie Eustace, Library Director, City of Baytown

Baytown engineering staff witnessed the power of truly listening to the community when they launched a street reconstruction project in a neighborhood and posted the details on Baytown Engage. They were surprised to discover that the residents didn’t so much care about the project itself, as much as they did the safety issues around it. neighborhood residents wanted safety measures such as speed cushions and lighted stop signs.

The engineering department wasn’t aware safety was an issue in that area until it was raised by the residents. The feedback received influenced the planning, and after the project was in place the city ended up changing an ordinance. By receiving community feedback early in the process, not only are new things learned but project pushback was minimized that could have led to unexpected major costs for Baytown.

A focus on accurate information engenders deep public trust

Save time and decrease confusion with transparent information housed in one place.

Through their use of EngagementHQ, the city of Baytown has realized many successes with their community.

Baytown staff is pleased by the number of people that are receiving accurate information about local projects, in one place. The staff aims to tell residents why a project is taking place, how it will impact them, mitigate concerns, and eliminate the need to call multiple departments for answers. The information is all in one place.

Baytown is proud of its local artist community and its digital engagement platform has only elevated and connected that community more. They use the Ideas tool in EngagementHQ to help their Public Art Visioning Committee decide on projects and themes.

A storm drain painting contest was held, as well as a traffic control cabinet art contest, and both resulted in meaningful public engagement, feel-good projects, and beautiful public art.

“The community loved this. We originally were going to do ten traffic control cabinets but ended up doing 28 because the community loved it so much,” –Sabrina Martin

Within the first year, the obvious success of EngagementHQ had an impact on securing funding for more projects, expansion of programs, and another position in community engagement.

Integrating a digital platform into local government

City of Baytown staff has cracked the code on effectively integrating a digital engagement platform into their local government agency. Their tips for success include:

  • Create a template for departments to use when requesting to add information to the platform.
  • Assign a staff member to be the caretaker of the site and ensure the templates and standards are in place for all to use and follow.
  • Don’t be afraid to try. Put a project on the platform and see how you can engage with your audience.
  • Be thoughtful when building out a project page and know what data you want from the public that provides the highest value.
  • Plan and budget for a marketing campaign to spread the word about the new platform.

“A big part of what EngagementHQ has done is built up our relationships with internal departments. I now better understand what my colleagues are going through, what their programs are, and I can speak to the community in a more educated way because of those partnerships formed.” – Sabrina Martin

Reach out to learn more about gathering community feedback and reaching more residents.

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