The City of Port St. Lucie's innovative approaches to community involvement have made residents more satisfied.
“Port St. Lucie’s citizens are at the heart of every strategic goal set by City leaders — who recognize that relationships are built by listening and responding to feedback, not only when handling today’s issues, but also while planning for the future,” said Kate Parmelee, Strategic Initiatives Director for Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Keeping residents at the heart of every strategic goal set by City leaders has not only led to skyrocketing resident participation but also to increased resident satisfaction. And leaders aren’t afraid to do things differently to better engage residents.
“This new approach to strategic planning has dramatically increased citizen engagement and provided the City Council with timely and comprehensive citizen feedback that ultimately leads to citizen informed policy and funding decisions. This approach is cultivating more informed and empowered citizens that are reacting positively to these efforts,” said Parmelee.
The City regularly conducts The National Community Survey (The NCS) to gather feedback from residents. Data from the survey show that Post St. Lucie’s residents have become much more pleased with the City’s Community Engagement between 2018 and 2019. Specifically, they have become more satisfied with the local government treating all residents fairly, being honest, and sense of community.
“I commend the leaders of Port St. Lucie for taking such great care for residents to be heard. Their efforts have transformed community satisfaction” said Damema Mann, Director of National Engagement for Polco.
Post St. Lucies’s efforts led to a 2020 Voice of the People Award for Transformation in Community Engagement. This is the only national award that honors local governments based on feedback from residents. The award is presented by Polco / National Research Center (NRC) and the International City & County Management Association (ICMA). This award acknowledges local governments that make significant improvements on The NCS ratings and that take the best actions on behalf of their communities.
Port St. Lucie’s Annual Citizen Summit and The NCS provide important opportunities for residents to express their opinions
“The NCS™, combined with the annual Summit, has become vital to Port St. Lucie’s strategic planning process,” said Parmelee.
The Citizen Summit is a drop-in event designed for all ages featuring interactive booths representing the City’s seven strategic goals. Attendees have the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns related to these strategic goals at the booths and engage with the City Council face to face.
City leaders hand out “PSL Bucks” to attendees. These bucks act as votes towards different policy or funding changes. This makes for a much more fun way to poll the people than a survey.
Perhaps one of the most notable achievements of the Annual Citizen Summit is the way Port St. Lucie City Council involves children in the activities as well. Kids participate in interactive activities about civil duties such as recycling, cleaning up litter, and designing new playground areas. This keeps kids interested and invested in becoming active in the community.
The popularity of the summit is a testament to the tremendous efforts put forth by the City Council. In just three years, the Summit’s attendance has doubled to more than 600 attendees. This engagement quadrupled participation from prior engagement workshops.
In addition to using feedback from the Citizen Summit for strategic planning, The City also leans heavily on The NCS.
“The survey allows the City to obtain the community’s opinion on specifics, track our performance over time, and to meaningfully compare ourselves to other communities to identify areas where we can meaningfully improve,” said Parmelee.
Within the past year, participation in The NCS has also increased significantly.
City Council has a three-step process to be able to incorporate feedback from The NCS and The Citizen Summit into their strategic plan.
The three steps are: design, implement, and evaluate.
In the design step of the process, City Council reviews the results of the community feedback. They select the elements of feedback that are most important to address. They then can design the new strategic plan.
During this phase of the three-step process, City Council members choose which programs need more focus based on community response. They then begin to implement a plan for these programs. This is when program directors allocate budgets for each initiative.
Throughout all steps of the process, leaders encourage feedback from the residents. In fact, they make data readily available via an online user-friendly platform. This is where the program directors track the success of their efforts and evaluate the outcomes.
Quarterly, the City Manager publishes updates on the progress and current state of the strategic plan. This keeps the community informed and updated.
As Port St. Lucie leaders look towards the future, they plan to continue to innovate and adapt to engage residents. During COVID-19, they held a virtual public workshop and online survey related to a planned Adventure Park. This drew over 300 survey responses, which surpassed typical attendance at in-person park planning workshops.
“Through promoting meaningful opportunities to participate and acting on the feedback we receive through engaging with residents, we anticipate citizen satisfaction with community engagement to continue to grow,” said Parmelee.