Local agencies are finding success with their online engagement strategies in delightful and unexpected ways. These community success stories range from the community coming together around environmental goals, connecting people and services throughout the pandemic, and aiding communication regarding tough issues such as budget. These local community stories from around the world have one thing in common: online public engagement is prioritized within the local organization.
1. Simulated Budgeting Tool Gives Residents ‘Hands-on’ Experience
New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown coincided with the Wellington City Council’s Annual Plan process, disrupting planned budgets, and requiring urgent rewrites. They turned to their online platform, Let’s Talk Wellington, to give residents the opportunity to fully understand all that went into the annual budget process.
The Council provided a ‘hands-on’ experience of balancing the realities of budget and service demands through what they called Balancing Act, a simulated budgeting tool. Approximately 700 residents used the tool. After engaging with the citizens and collecting valuable data, Wellington City Council formally adopted the Annual Plan and a rate increase that residents largely accepted.
2. Flexible Approach to Health Engagement
In some community success stories, an online engagement platform becomes a source of truth for a range of health-related issues. The Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network in Australia manages a broad set of relationships between health care users, providers, and hospitals, among other stakeholders. They created Peoplebank, the region’s dedicated online engagement space to address gaps in primary healthcare.
Peoplebank now has over 820 registered participants, including participants from the typically hard-to-reach older demographics. Significantly, 35% of participants are from the 45-54 age group, while ages 55-65 make up 25% of the sum, and 9% belong to the 65+ demographic.
3. Resources During Economic Uncertainty
The Inner West Council in Australia began using EngagementHQ in 2009 with the launch of their community site, Your Say, Inner West. Today, the platform provides a living record of engagement on more than 580 projects. When the COVID-19 pandemic brought about economic and personal uncertainty, the Council’s Library and History Services created a community archive of stories, anecdotes, artwork, and images from citizens. In just four weeks, they received 193 local community stories through the Stories tool.
“This was a beautiful community participation project during a tough time, increasing social cohesion and allowing Council to create a permanent community asset,” said Senior Engagement Specialist, Annie Coulthard.
In Canada, when all in-classroom instruction was suspended due to the pandemic, school districts were asked to provide childcare for children of essential service workers. The Maple Ridge – Pitt Meadows School District (SD42) used their online engagement site, Let’s Talk SD42, to organize a survey and get plans in motion. In just five days, SD42 heard from 1,200 families. They were able to quickly assess the data and community resources and reach out to families who needed childcare.
4. Including Younger Voices in Decision-Making
The Blue Mountains City Council in Australia went above and beyond typical public engagement and sought to involve the youth in their local community story. They dedicated a portion of their engagement site, Blue Mountains Have Your Say, to local children and called it Kids Say.
“The kids submitted lots of ideas and drawings, and their input will now absolutely influence where street libraries are ultimately established,” said Communications Officer Mikaela Sherlock.
Council also utilized the Budget Allocator tool, dubbing it the ‘Funbobulator’, to encourage kids to use it to help make decisions about their favorite parks (along with other community members). The first park project received more than 600 responses.
5. A Collective Community Addressing Climate Change
The Our Wollongong site, headed up by the Wollongong City Council, states the goal of city-wide net zero emissions by the year 2050. They used their engagement site to invite the residents and businesses to share ideas on how they, collectively as a community, can achieve the goal.
Community members shared their ideas using virtual post-it notes and interacted with other participants. The Council received 426 online submissions, including over 100 ideas from the community.
“The responses showed that the community has a consistent view around the direction Council should be taking. We have since received emails from the community saying thank you for the opportunity to engage,” stated an Engagement Officer with Wollongong City Council.
6. Developing Waste Management Strategies
In Canada, four different cities are utilizing their online engagement platform to assess and develop smarter waste management plans. The City of Dufferin surveyed residents on their use of green bins and how the system could be improved. The City of St. John’s engaged residents around their concerns about automated garbage collection. They gathered valuable information on bin size and recycling practices and answered questions around implementation. The community in the City of Kingston helped identify strategies to improve household waste-diversion levels and keep more trash out of landfills.
7. Creating Real Community Connections
When the Cheshire West and Chester Council launched their community site, Participate Now, they were pleasantly surprised by how the platform inspired conversations in ways they didn’t anticipate.
The ideation board was a surprise hit. After its initial launch to field information about solving community issues, it exploded in popularity with the participants and sparked real conversation. Residents got creative on the platform, brainstorming, and adding images and links.
“People actually sparked off each other’s ideas. They started to have conversations with each other, and it brought real energy to the overall conversation,” said Anna Miller, Research Team Manager at Cheshire West and Chester Council.
8. Involving the Community in Transportation Planning
Only one year after launch, the Sammamish, WA engagement site, Connect Sammamish, had 22,000 visitors with around 400 registered users, 536 contributors, and 3,000 informed participants. With this exciting level of participation, city staff knew they could leverage it for the key areas of interest in their growing community: traffic, mobility, and transportation infrastructure.
They now use their engagement platform to communicate about their Transportation Master Plan, a Corridor Improvement Study, and to provide helpful construction updates on a road project. Input from a statistically valid survey is informing the Master Plan, while responses from multiple surveys and the mapping tool have informed project phases of the Corridor Study. Community success stories like Sammamish’s can keep on finding success with implementing a range of different projects, continuously building trust with community members, and closing the loop with participants.
“I think what works well is having one source for updates,” said Rori Kirkpatrick, Community Transportation Coordinator at the City of Sammamish.
9. Going Beyond Typical Surveys
Coventry City Council’s housing engagement on their site, Let’s Talk Coventry, has had over five times the response rate as previous attempts compared to previous community engagement attempts. Their site covers a range of projects and themes, and they have effectively created a one-stop hub where a variety of conversations are held. Residents end up participating in more than just the survey that brought them to the site in the first place, sometimes even sharing their local community stories as well. In keeping with the digital realm, agencies can use the tools in EngagementHQ to present information and collect feedback in methods beyond traditional wordy surveys.
10. Effective Online Engagement Meets Modern Needs
The Wingecarribee Shire Council is a part of the community success stories that grew out of agency staff understanding how public engagement has changed.
“We knew town hall-style meetings didn’t suit a large portion of our population, especially people who were time-poor,” said Charmaine Cooper, Community Engagement Coordinator, “This project gave us the opportunity to step back and think about better ways to engage.”
“We used it to identify businesses going plastic-free,” said Charmaine, “We encouraged the community to use the markers to show when they’d visited businesses who were being proactive, and it gave us a great picture of what’s happening in our business community.”
Community Success Stories through Long-Term Community Engagement
These community success stories represent how bringing more people to the table regarding community projects results in data-rich decision-making. When governments invest in online engagement for their residents they are not only building trust, they are also investing in their community for the long haul. Are you ready to create your organization’s local community story?