When you put a group of community leaders together at a table to talk about the practicalities of building a smart city, you get a flood of information, some effective group therapy, and a lot of good ideas. That’s what happened during a roundtable workshop facilitated by US Ignite Director of Communications Mari Silbey at the recent CityLaunch event hosted by the Connected Communities Collaborative in San Diego. Roughly a dozen participants addressed the “realities and practical steps for creating smart and connected roadmaps” for community development.
The Roadmaps session covered everything from data management to technology infrastructure, but some particularly useful tips surfaced during the debate on improving both internal and external engagement for smart city initiatives. Here are five takeaways from that discussion.
1. Create an internal academy – The theory behind the La Quinta Academy, as told by La Quinta City Council Member John Pena, is that if you empower employees in a specific area and give them recognition, they blossom. The La Quinta Academy brings small groups of employees together every six weeks or so to teach each other about what they’re working on and what they’re accomplishing. It’s a surprisingly effective way to communicate across departments, promote successes, and motivate employees to learn more.
2. Appoint an innovation subcommittee – Along a similar line to the academy approach, John Swiecki, Community Development Director for the city of Brisbane in California, recommends creating a specific innovation subcommittee that also includes representatives from different departments. It’s a way to pool knowledge and create new perspectives on civic challenges – perspectives that can lead to innovative solutions.
3. Workshop it – Looking at internal engagement through an academic lens, Professor Todd Hylton of the University of California San Diego, believes the academic workshop model is a useful way to create a self-selecting group of thinkers passionate about a particular topic. Recruit a few people who are actively studying a problem to lead the workshop, and then invite anyone interested in the subject to attend. Engagement is built in because the participants have self-selected to be there.
4. Find the super connectors – From a citizen engagement perspective, the first challenge to encouraging civic participation is getting the message out about what local government is doing. Brisbane’s Swiecki talks about finding the super connectors in your community to help carry that message. Usually those super connectors aren’t individual people, but local organizations like rotary clubs, mothers clubs, realtor associations, schools, and parent/teacher organizations.
5. All hail the public outreach manual – One important rule of community outreach, says Brian Chong, Assistant to the City Manager in the city of Moorpark in California, is not to reinvent the wheel every time there’s something new to communicate. Moorpark keeps a very simple public outreach manual that includes communications tactics the city has used in the past, and ideas that have been suggested for future testing. According to Chong, the list includes everything from basic social media sharing and paid media initiatives, to creative ideas like creating coupons for a civic service that people can redeem at a local event or meetup.
Boosting community engagement is largely an exercise in implementing common sense ideas. But it never hurts to spell them out as a way of encouraging people to turn ideas into common sense best practices.