By definition, comprehensive plans are complex, long-range, and broad in scope. The planning and engagement processes for these plans often take over two years to complete. This can make it difficult to establish and maintain meaningful engagement with community members throughout the process. Using CitizenLab’s user-friendly and accessible online engagement platform, the City of Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) reached thousands of residents in their planning process over 2022, all while supporting their goal for inclusive and equitable engagement.
One Seattle Plan Engagement Hub in Numbers
- 1,930 total registered users
- 2,348 participants in the first engagement survey
- Over 18,000 page views from Seattle residents
- 1,258 translation requests across seven different languages
Seattle OPCD uses online community engagement to develop an inclusive and equitable comprehensive plan for the future of Seattle.
A comprehensive plan defines the vision and activities for the city’s investments and growth for the next twenty years. During the development of its last comprehensive plan, Seattle received decent success in engaging with its population, but it also found that they were mainly hearing from groups and individuals who were already familiar with the City’s planning processes. Additionally, the loudest voices came from populations already enjoying access to power, resources, and amenities. So in 2022, with inclusion and equity being the top priority, Seattle OPCD set out to bring in and amplify more voices from historically underrepresented communities. Their goal was (and continues to be) to include feedback from as many perspectives as possible in developing their updated comprehensive plan.
Traditional engagement methods (town hall meetings, occasional surveys, etc.) no longer cut it on their own in our increasingly digital and busy world. In the Seattle area, 95% of the population has access to the internet in their homes, meaning that online engagement can be done quickly and more inclusively than in the past. To meet everyone where they are and lower any barriers to engagement, OPCD developed its online engagement platform, the One Seattle Engagement Hub – a central online location for collecting, organizing, and analyzing public feedback via various virtual engagement activities. This platform allows residents to learn about the plan easily and contribute their ideas from their computers or smartphone.
“Our goal is to shape a Seattle that is more equitable, livable, sustainable, and resilient for our communities, both now and in the future.”Aja Hazelhoff, Outreach and Engagement Coordinator
Let’s break it down. Follow along to see how SeattleOPCD’s platform went from idea to execution to growth.
January-February: Documents, and more documents.
Starting 2022 off strong, the beginning of the year was all about procurement and legal documents. Our responsive team of experts worked with Seattle OPCD to meet their needs and make their online engagement platform a reality.
March: Ready, set, engage.
From there, OPCD immediately set out to define key goals and success metrics for their engagement. Through a collaborative workshop with their Government Success manager, they outlined these core objectives:
- Encourage diverse participation, including BIPOC & underserved communities
- Reach a citywide audience by making information and engagement accessible to as many groups and individuals as to create overall project awareness.
- Engage new voices
- Perform targeted and broad outreach
- Engage as many community members as possible (residents, visitors, former residents)
Having a strong foundation and proactive goals to build upon is crucial for successful engagement. It ensures that all stakeholders are on the same page and every action is deliberately taken to help achieve these goals.
April – May: Platform Build + Launch
Now that their goals were clear, the team moved into the design and launch of the platform. During their implementation sessions and guidance from their Government Success Manager, the Seattle team shaped their Comprehensive Plan project on the platform into four key phases:
- Phase 1 – Listen & Learn
- Phase 2 – Shape the Plan
- Phase 3 – Review & Refine
- Draft the full Comprehensive Plan and circulate to all relevant stakeholders, including the community
- Phase 4 – Adopt & Look Ahead
- Finalize Plan and begin work on community projects
“I got to present the current platform to our Director and other higher-ups just now, and they absolutely lost their minds. They are so, so pumped for this site and for the work it will enable to do for the Comp Plan. Your team deserves a huge thank you for being so incredibly responsive and flexible and working with us to stand this up on such a short timeline. We really appreciate it.”City of Seattle official
On May 9th, Engage OneSeattle Plan was officially launched to the community. The Platform included many educational resources and invited visitors to provide feedback through an embedded Typeform survey. Asking about topics from where to locate housing to how they should invest in things like transportation, utilities, parks & open space, this survey was the first step in determining the areas of prioritization for the new Plan.
To make the survey accessible to as many people as possible, it was made available in 7 languages.
Before diving into the survey, residents could peruse city documentation and essential background information in a consolidated location to be informed on the issues at hand before providing input.
June – August: Reporting on results
After the survey was live for 12 weeks, OPCD began to analyze the data collected. With over 2300 responses to the survey from a diverse set of residents, Seattle found these were the top three topics the community wanted to focus on:
- Housing availability and affordability
- Transportation and mobility
To report back to the residents on these findings, OPCD developed a succinct report and an interactive Data Analysis Tool with access to the full survey dataset. Not only could people read the results, but they were also invited to comment on and provide additional feedback on the process – further showing the OPCD team’s commitment to transparency and open feedback channels.
After taking a comprehensive look at the top priorities of the community, Seattle moved into Phase 2 of the process: Shaping the Plan. In this phase, Seattle OPCD launched a detailed environmental analysis of the ideas formulated in Phase 1. Using our proposals and commenting features, they gathered feedback in over 1000 comments that helped determine what they should study—which topics are important and how residents want Seattle to shape its growth.
The results were drafted into an environmental impact study they shared in a scoping report back to the community. By providing reports on every project phase, engaged residents receive full transparency through the entire process and are motivated to return to the platform continuously.
October – December
After a very successful first engagement push on the platform, the OPCD team shifted its focus to engaging with the community around Equity. They provided educational materials, including a video presentation, on how the new Comprehensive Plan can play a critical role in advancing racial equity by identifying and changing current policies that have perpetuated racial disparities. They have also opened up two opportunities for the community to provide input. Residents can have open discussions in the comments section of the Equity project, and they can also partake in the Racial Equity Outcomes survey. Seattle has put equity at the forefront of developing new policies and strategies for the city’s future. Community engagement will help them identify the outcomes to focus on advancing through the Comprehensive Plan.
Takeaways after one year of online engagement
The City of Seattle is well on its way to developing an inclusive and equitable Comprehensive Plan that will represent the entire community. From the already high levels of engagement to the sub-goal of generating overall awareness, their online engagement platform is building a foundation for long-term engagement in Seattle. Speaking with the core team, they reflected on their year of engagement and have a few poignant takeaways that will fuel additional success in 2023:
- A platform isn’t a silver bullet that will solve every engagement problem, but having a dedicated tool improves accessibility and streamlines data aggregation, and opens up new opportunities for comprehensive engagement.
- By consolidating engagement efforts on a platform, you can increase internal buy-in and improve cross-departmental collaboration.
- An online platform provides users with an intuitive information hierarchy that efficiently delivers key information and action steps without digging through layers of pages and documents.
- High engagement numbers are important, but so is building awareness. The worst thing for local officials to hear is, “we’ve never heard about that,” so getting people to the platform and reading about the issues has an impact even if they don’t engage much in depth.