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Polco News & Knowledge

Just Keep Swimming: Gathering Public Engagement


-By Kim Newcomer – CEO / Founder of Slate Communications

 Even when no one cares, gathering public engagement is important work.

Working in the public sector comes with some cold, hard, bitter realities.

First, you’ll never get rich quick. In fact, you’ll never get rich.

Second, inspiring everyday residents to engage with their local government will be impossible.

But you will continually be asked to make it happen so we must keep trying.

To help me shift my thinking from challenges to solutions, I talked with Ginny Sawyer, Policy & Project Manager for the City of Fort Collins and, as far as I’m concerned, one of the best public engagement professionals in local gov.


Here’s her advice.

1) Communicate First

Often times we view feedback separately from communications. Public input and communications go hand and hand. To quote Ginny, “Informing is not a lesser form of public engagement, it is still engagement.” We have to thoughtfully share information about the topic at hand if we expect people to understand and care about it.

As quick aside, if you want to engage humans, you should actually talk like one. Steer clear of jargon, long detailed narratives and explanations, and generally sounding like a textbook.

2) Make a Plan

Instead of a scattered approach to public engagement, take the time to map out your key stakeholders and target audiences. Review their preferred feedback tools and common behaviors. Then go about determining strategies to reach them.

3) Try Something New

Not to lean on the cliché, but we can all admit to using the same engagement tools over and over, while expecting different results. Break out of the routine and try something new: a telephone town hall, a texting campaign (check out Textizen if you haven’t yet), or new idea from Ginny: a “meeting in a box” where engaged residents host their own mini-meetings using the information, tools, and supplies you provide, and share the input they’ve gathered with you.

Sometimes gathering quality public feedback can feel like we’re swimming up stream. Gathering diverse, thoughtful, and relevant input undoubtedly improves the outcome and is definitely worth the effort.

Kim Newcomer

Kim Newcomer is the CEO and Founder of Slate Communications, which helps public sector organizations connect and engage with their constituents. With two decades of experience in marketing for communities, Newcomer has a deep understanding of local government communications. She has previously worked for the towns and cities of Vail, Durango, and Fort Collins, CO. To learn more about Kim and Slate Communications, go to slatecommunications.com.


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