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Polco News & Knowledge

Buffalo Grove’s Simple Strategy to Reach Diverse Voices

reach diverse voices

  • As a result of major demographic changes, the Village of Buffalo Grove, Illinois, wasn’t hearing from a representative group of residents in their community. 
  • They developed an innovative, yet simple, strategy to hear from a more inclusive group of community members. 
  • Buffalo Grove won a 2022 year Voice of the People Award (VOP) for Transformation in Equity, Engagement, and Inclusion. The Voice of the People Awards, presented in partnership with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), are the only national awards given to local governments based on resident feedback.   

Buffalo Grove Needed a Way to Connect to More Groups Within its Diverse Community

Buffalo Grove is a relatively young community. But it looks almost entirely different today than it did when it was founded three generations ago when residents were mostly farmers and immigrants of Eastern European descent. 

“We’ve had a lot of changing demographics over the past 20 or 30 years,” said Evan Michel, assistant to the Village Manager. 

In more recent years,  large South and East Asian populations moved into the community for its schools, parks, and advanced manufacturing in the area. 

“We found out that 40% of our community was born outside of the United States,” he said. “There was a recognition on the Village Board that we really needed to start reaching out and connecting with these individuals to make it a more inclusive community.” 

Buffalo Grove officials conduct The National Community Survey (The NCS), an assessment that asks residents their opinions about their community. Results showed residents wanted the Village to focus on equity and inclusion as well. Plus, resident fears about rising anti-Asian sentiment in the early months of the pandemic revealed an urgent need for this kind of engagement.  

A New Program Connected Village Leaders to Underheard Groups

The Village’s police department responded to fears in Buffalo Grove’s large Asian community by creating a book on how to report hate crimes, which they translated into several Asian languages. But the problem of how to distribute these books remained. 

“The police department needed inroads into those communities and trusted voices so that when they showed up at a church or other gathering, they had credibility showing that they were there to help,” Michel said. 

This sparked the idea of the Community Champions program: a select group of Buffalo Grove residents representing diverse groups which meets regularly to provide feedback to the Village Board and staff.

“The Community Champions program came from conversations where we realized we needed to find all these interconnected people in our community and get them in a room together,” Michel said. 

To select Community Champions, Village staff met with the Board and had everyone write down who they interacted with the most. Categories included religious institutions, social service agencies, schools, parks, and property owners. Staff sent invitations to these individuals for informal conversations that would allow the Village staff, Board members, and residents to get to know each other. 

Buffalo Grove used these connections to facilitate community conversations and to build trust with traditionally under-heard groups. The program now includes 117 civic-minded individuals and groups.

By getting these residents engaged, the Village could hear resident stories and easily exchange information among the diverse groups. For instance, the Community Champions program connected the Village staff and local police to the local Asian community and get the books to residents. 

Improvements in Equity Reveal Progress

Deliberate actions like the creation of the Community Champions program led to an increased sense of equity, inclusion, and engagement.

The Village’s 2021 NCS results showed 75% of those surveyed praised the community for inclusivity and fair treatment of all citizens, surpassing national comparisons. Overall, respondents said they felt more connected to the community in 2021 than in 2017. 

Buffalo Grove showed a significant improvement in inclusivity and engagement between 2017 and 2021

“When we got the Polco data from the results of the 2021 NCS, then we were able to say, yep, we moved the needle,” Michel said. “We have actual evidence to show that what we were doing made a difference.” 

Michel encourages other communities seeking to become more equitable and inclusive to commit for the long haul. 

“It’s important to realize that it is a long-term play,” Michel said. “This is a years-long process, maybe even decades, where you’re making inroads in communities. When you’re doing big things, it takes time, listening, and tough conversations.” 

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