A recent study done by the National League of Cities, Bright Spots in Community Engagement, investigates the successes and struggles of four communities named as front runners in promoting and implementing community engagement: Austin, Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia.
The City of Austin, in particular, was lauded for the resources and time it committed to putting together Imagine Austin, a comprehensive plan used to guide city growth, development, and beautification. Austin decided to make initial guiding principles for Imagine Austin: public participation, sustainability and implementation. Employing the idea of citizensourcing, or a deeper level of participatory governing that involves citizens throughout the planning process, one of the nation’s largest cities was able to display the importance of including citizens on its roadmap to the future.
The city garnered feedback in a multitude of ways, including in person meetings, surveys, and online tools such as social media. After drafting the plan, the city called for feedback using its Speak Up Austin site, an online citizen engagement and feedback platform hosted by Granicus. They were able to compile and summarize 1,800 comments that were used to further improve the plan. Austin’s Planning Department could educate and inform citizens on where the project was at using slideshows, images and videos, before soliciting feedback. Today, Speak Up Austin continues to engage Austinites with projects, discussions, forums, crowdsourcing, and surveys.
An estimated 25,000 citizens contributed to the final plan, which was adopted in June 2012. Garner Stoll, Assistant Director for Planning reflected, “Looking back at the process, it often felt long and difficult, but in the end we developed a better plan because we were challenged by our citizens. The community engagement effort helped the task force and the city council reach consensus on the final plan because they could be confident that it reflected the values and preferences of the citizens of Austin.” Austin’s commitment to gathering extensive quantities of diverse feedback from its citizens proves a great example of how communities across America can use citizensourcing for a better future.