The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is a historic investment in America’s infrastructure and aims to make significant improvements in key areas, including roads and bridges, rail, public transit, water systems, and broadband. With $1.2 trillion approved for both new and existing programs, IIJA has a strong emphasis on promoting safety, equity, and resiliency in American communities. Now that the bill has been passed, how can local governments ensure they are carrying these core tenets forward in the way that’s best for their constituents? Two words: community engagement.
Working towards ambitious goals, IIJA touches on many critical areas of improvement for communities across the United States. With so many potential areas of focus and competitive proposals to make, local governments now have the challenging task of prioritizing projects they deem most important for their communities. But they don’t have to do it alone. By engaging with their residents, leaders can be sure they are crafting plans that will optimize their use of IIJA funds in an inclusive and transparent manner.
Leverage community engagement to determine high priority infrastructure projects
From public transit to water safety to safe sidewalks, a city’s infrastructure should be optimized for everyone living in it. As an issue that is historically plagued by inequity, it is essential to make sure your residents understand the potential of this bill for their community, and that they have the opportunity to give their input. Through community engagement, you can tap into the insights they have as people who use your city’s infrastructure daily. Hear what is working and what doesn’t work to glean ideas on what can be improved.
The IIJA funds are split between supporting existing programs and developing new programs. As you engage with your community, pay attention to whether the issues being raised could be supported by existing programs or if they’d require the creation of new programs. Existing programs already have the foundation needed for swifter action upon receiving the funds, and therefore can provide more immediate progress for your community. On the other hand, new programs will support innovative infrastructure initiatives, such as electric vehicle charging stations and improved broadband, to solve often neglected issues. While new programs often take significantly more time and effort to implement, by involving stakeholders from the start you will be better informed and positioned to decide which issues are worth the additional investment.
Once you comb through stakeholder input and map your priorities to IIJA programs, you will be able to confidently apply for funding knowing you’ve looked at it from all angles, including the community’s. Applying for funds will be competitive, so be ready to act quickly.
Another recent funding bill, the American Rescue Plan Act, saw governments faced with a similar challenge – where should we allocate funds? See how the City of Lancaster prioritized fund allocation by gathering public input on their digital platform.
Share your infrastructure plans with the community to increase transparency and community buy-in
Not only does community engagement help you formulate your plans, it builds two-way communication that can be used to increase trust and support for your projects. Once you’ve received feedback from the community and crafted a formal plan within your team, be sure to keep the community in the loop by sharing where you plan to use the funding. This will show the community how you constructively listened to what they had to say, and how you are making a plan to act on their input.
Additionally, by sharing your funding plan openly you can bolster trust by showing your community that you’re organized and prepared for this unique opportunity to improve your city’s infrastructure. The IIJA is complicated, and while your community may not understand the ins-and-outs of it like you do, they’ll at least know their local officials are on top of it.
Keep your community informed by tracking and sharing project process
Finally, as you receive the funding and projects are underway, provide the community with continuous updates so they can track status and timelines. Whether it’s repairing a bridge or replacing lead pipes, the infrastructure projects made possible by this bill may cause disruptions to your community member’s daily lives. Providing the community with a platform to follow along and provide feedback will allow them to feel informed and included in the process. Construction delays? Let them know what to expect. Project almost finished? Get people excited. By providing them with a central information hub, on a platform such as CitizenLab’s, you can assure your community that you’re looking out for them.
Incorporate community engagement in your IIJA funding plans
Infrastructure projects take time and effort, so it is important to engage your community, and keep them engaged, as you look to take advantage of everything IIJA has to offer. By using a platform like CitizenLab’s, you can tap into the community’s priorities to help you make more informed planning decisions for your city’s IIJA funding.