Do you have a small team dedicated to community engagement efforts? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The City of Allen has demonstrated how a small team can achieve excellent results by fostering widespread support throughout the organization and crafting a robust engagement strategy, strongly facilitated by its online community engagement platform.
The City of Allen in numbers
- Over 600 total registered users in one month
- Over 1,486 page views from Allen residents
- All run by a passionate team of the City of Allen communicators
In an age where technology increasingly influences all aspects of life, harnessing its potential to strengthen community engagement has become vital for governance. The City of Allen, Texas, understood this paradigm shift and leveraged CitizenLab’s digital engagement platform to tap into the voice of its 106,000 community members in a more meaningful and efficient manner for its upcoming bond election. Their goal? Facilitate more inclusive and transparent decision-making processes with hybrid engagement methods.
Building a strong internal team and culture of engagement
One often overlooked but critical aspect of setting your city up for successful online engagement is the need for good internal organization. After community engagement was identified as a top goal in its City Council Strategic Plan, the City of Allen began exploring how to better interact with residents using an online engagement tool. A duo of dedicated communicators stepped up to the task by selecting a platform, overseeing multiple projects, and building early awareness to effectively drive good engagement.
Let’s break it down. This core team consisted of two City of Allen employees: Erik the Marketing Specialist and his supervisor, Chelsey, who both work in the city’s Public and Media Relations Office. From day one, these two have been extremely dedicated to the platform, and beyond that, they have strongly communicated the importance of it across the city. How have they done this?
- Before implementing the platform, Erik and Chelsey made sure it met the needs of their internal team, especially city leadership, through frequent and clear communication about the objectives and the process.
- During onboarding, they ensured the active involvement of their leadership to gain a thorough understanding of how the platform works to create an additional sense of ownership and accountability for the community engagement efforts.
- By sharing practical knowledge about the platform, they were also able to automatically translate the value of the platform, creating further buy-in across the team.
Putting community engagement at the heart of bond planning
Once the entire team was prepped and the platform had launched, the City of Allen introduced the “Engage Allen 2023 Bond Program” on their online community engagement platform Engage Allen. This initiative aimed to give the residents of Allen an active role in determining the allocation of potential bond funds through the creation of several subcommittees, each with a specific topic to focus on, ranging from infrastructure development to community improvements.
Spreading the word about their community engagement platform
Next up was communicating the platform to the community to get the engagement started. When the platform was initially launched, the City of Allen let its community know through social media and its existing email contact lists. As the bond process gained momentum, they increased their messaging efforts by targeting larger email contact lists. Their focus in these emails was to encourage sign-ups on Engage Allen, highlighting it as the central place for future bond updates and resources from in-person meetings. These email lists included newsletters, volunteer, and service lists, reaching approximately 46,000 people. From April to May, they sent 24 unique emails to these groups, all containing links and promotions for the platform.
In addition to the emails and social media posts, the City of Allen promoted the platform through various channels:
- Scannable QR codes on paper handouts at in-person meetings
- Scannable QR codes on signage at in-person events
- Presentations made at bond subcommittee meetings
- Subcommittee members (Allen residents) were encouraged to share the platform with their friends and family via social media
Registration numbers increased after these promotional efforts, and then more significant growth occurred when online input opportunities were introduced on the platform.
“The addition of these online input opportunities transformed Engage Allen from an information board into a true engagement space and allowed us to hear from far more people than just those who were able to attend in-person meetings,” said Erik. “It was also important that our efforts on Engage Allen didn’t feel disconnected from what was happening at bond subcommittee meetings and tours. Even more importantly, we wanted to make sure Allen residents not only felt like, but truly were active participants in the bond process and the ongoing growth of this community.”Erik, City of Allen
This entire campaign spanned approximately one and a half months and resulted in 581 registered users right off the bat!
Engaging with their community on bond allocation and new parks
Let’s take a closer look at the City of Allen’s engagement projects:
2023 Bond Project
The bond process is led by subcommittees dedicated to five different topics. The bond election features six project pages, each dedicated to a subcommittee, showcasing their activities and providing opportunities for community input.
The City of Allen chose to take a hybrid approach to its bond election decision-making process. The first step was to clearly map the in-person engagement that was scheduled for each subcommittee, and, secondly, to translate those activities onto the CitizenLab platform. This was done in partnership with Nina Carlsen, the Government Success Manager for North America at CitizenLab. By working closely with their team, Allen was able to have a sounding board and advisory figure specific to platform-based engagement strategies.
Allen first gathered participants using the Volunteer tool through CitizenLab. Residents were able to indicate their interest in participating in their subcommittee of choice online or in person. Then, each week, online engagement tools like Survey and Ideation were used to gather feedback and questions from subcommittee members and residents. That input was factored into the subsequent meeting and integrated into the subcommittee planning.
The goal was to supplement in-person engagement and provide an asynchronous method of engagement for folks who were unable to attend in-person, or more comfortable contributing in a digital space.
Inspiring Inclusion: Parks & Recreation ADA Transition Plan
Allen Parks and Recreation is also working with an accessibility planning consultant to make their parks more accessible and ADA-friendly. Allen is gathering community input through a detailed survey and will report out to community residents with the results upon survey completion.
CitizenLab’s implementation by the City of Allen has already resulted in impressive figures. The city currently boasts over 600 registered users on the platform in less than a month, an achievement that speaks volumes about the excitement around and success of the platform.
Fostering continuous engagement and sharing of results for maximum impact
Given the wide variety of projects already underway, and with plenty more in the pipeline, it’s highly probable that residents will discover a topic close to their hearts when they visit the page. They can then provide valuable feedback and share their thoughts on the matter. But how do you make sure you get people to return to the platform, to create continuous engagement and consistently close the feedback loop?
Using a unique hybrid engagement process and constant communication, the City of Allen has created strong and continuous engagement. The first step was announcing the upcoming engagement on the platform, to start to build excitement and intrigue about the new engagement opportunity and give residents the platform and information to educate themselves before voting. Presentations were given to the Community Engagement Advisory Board on the power of the platform. Also, during this time, starting at in-person bond subcommittee meetings, the committee discusses the potential topics for the bond election. Once they had aligned on the core topics, they published the topics on Engage Allen and opened up the voting phase to receive resident input on what should be allocated for the bonds. Then finally, in the following week’s meeting, they review and discuss the results and make decisions accordingly.
This weekly cadence, centered around the platform both internally and externally, creates a really strong cycle of continuous engagement because residents know that when they come back, they can expect to see the direct impact their input has as well as new opportunities for engagement. By actively engaging with the residents of Allen and valuing their feedback, the local government cultivates a robust sense of trust. This demonstrates that the government is genuinely attentive and genuinely cares about leveraging resident input to enhance the community.
Creating impact by building a vibrant and engaged community
Off to a strong start, the City of Allen is working hard to make sure that its residents are not just spectators but active contributors to the city’s development narrative. Each project on their platform is unique and designed to address the varying needs and aspirations of the City of Allen’s residents.
“In one of its most important public input efforts to date, Engage Allen allowed the City of Allen to involve hundreds more people than in-person participation alone. These varied opportunities for involvement accomplished a key objective of our council’s strategic plan,” said Chelsey. “In addition to increasing the quantity of participants, we were able to improve the quality of our community conversations by answering direct questions and responding to concerns promptly, before misinformation and rumor mills could overtake the dialogue.”Chelsey, City of Allen
The city has showcased how a small, committed team can ignite substantial community involvement, utilizing technology to bridge gaps and bring local government and its residents closer together.
The future of Allen is promising, driven by a community actively participating in shaping it. The continuous cycle of engagement, feedback, and implementation is building a vibrant, resilient community anchored in trust and transparency.
Want to hear more about how you can achieve this in your city? Chat with one of our engagement experts to learn more.