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How Dane County Excels in Online Community Engagement

2 min read
September 16, 2022

With over 9,000 subscribers on Polco, Dane County residents are ready to share their feedback on local issues. 

This case study is part of our Voice of the People Award series. Most VOP winners are selected based on their results on The National Community Survey (The NCS), a resident feedback assessment that focuses on the foundations that create a high quality of life. Others demonstrate excellence in online engagement. 

People shop, order food, socialize, and date online. But engaging with local government digitally has yet to become commonplace. Aside from social media, many governments have struggled to find the best way for their residents to participate in local issues. On the other hand, governments who make online community engagement a priority are reaping the benefits. 

Since pre-Covid, Dane County, Wisconsin, has made it a point to consistently reach out to community members to get their input on planning and new ideas.

“The Dane County Board of Supervisors has made transparency and public outreach a priority over the last five years,” said Board Chair Patrick Miles. “With that, there has been an increased focus on all forms of outreach, including online.”

Online outreach includes Zoom meetings, a focus on social media, and staying active on Polco, all of which have led to informative discussions and new ideas. This multi-faceted approach to community outreach is why Dane County won a Voice of The People Award for Excellence in Online Outreach. 

“Utilizing multiple formats to communicate with a wide variety of residents allows the Board to reach people where they are,” Miles said. “The cross-pollination between platforms leads people from one platform to another for multiple outreach opportunities.”

While online meetings and social media help get messages out to the public, Polco is useful for getting targeted insights on specific concerns. For instance, the County Board and some of the other committees transitioned to hybrid meetings shortly after the pandemic began. The public (and committee members, when necessary) can participate either online or in person. 

To find out if the virtual meetings were a benefit to the community, Dane County posted a poll on Polco in English and Spanish to get resident feedback.  

A majority, 47%, said the virtual public meetings made it easier to attend. And an overwhelming majority, 73%, said that they prefer a hybrid approach to public meetings, rather than all virtual or all in-person. A few did express that online meetings were more of a challenge for them, but overall, the results made it clear that the hybrid model to meetings was a benefit to most residents. 

“Anecdotally, participation has largely been online. However, at County Board meetings, members of the public have been providing comments both in-person and virtually,” Miles said. “While the virtual format that the County Board used for the last two years may have been more challenging for some, the participation from members of the public and committees increased.”    

Dane County officials also posted surveys to receive community input on the number of County Board Members there should be, as well as insight on a redistricting map. The results helped inform decisions on both issues. 

To date, Dane County has over 9,000 subscribers who are ready to participate in their surveys whenever a new important topic arises. The amount of subscribers is a result of their consistent online communication and messaging. They serve as an example on how government leaders can actively engage with their residents—no matter how big or small the concern—in a simple and effective way. 

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