-By Julia Steege-Reimann-
Like many communities nationwide, Bloomington, Minnesota faces many simultaneous challenges regarding COVID-19 response.
Leaders want to protect residents from the spread of COVID-19, while also helping the economy to recover. Plus, limited ability to engage in-person and constantly changing circumstances make it a struggle to connect with residents, but it is even more of a necessity
So Bloomington’s leaders swiftly began problem solving for how best to reach their residents. They decided to turn to the online civic engagement platform Polco.
"We selected the Polco platform because of its ability to provide quick snapshots of how constituents we're faring and gather feedback on budget and service issues," said Diann Kirby, Bloomington's Community Services Director.
Polco’s suite of survey and civic engagement tools deliver insights local governments can rely on. As part of the subscription, Polco provides scientific surveys and can verify that respondents live in the community. Polco also provides real-time results displayed as helpful dashboard reports, graphs and maps.
“The ability to select surveys off the shelf was particularly useful in our case, as was the verification of residents against voter registration files for demographic data. The product was very user-friendly, providing us with the ability to upload questions and set up polls in a matter of minutes," Kirby said.
Addressing Residents’ COVID-19 Concerns
Throughout the pandemic, the City has gathered feedback to learn more about how residents are faring. This feedback has guided Bloomington’s COVID-19 response.
Because of these efforts, Bloomington has been recognized as a winner for the 2020 Voice of the People (VOP) Award for Online Community Engagement. This is the only national award that honors local governments based solely on engagement with residents. The VOP Awards are presented by National Research Center (NRC) at Polco and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).
In April, residents reported that the City website is the second most popular resource for critical information about COVID-19. Community members seek timely, factual information, especially related to the number of COVID-19 cases locally. So the City improved its website and added a dashboard.
In June, residents reported that they do not feel safe in public around others not wearing masks. In response, the mayor issued a proclamation requiring face coverings inside all City buildings. The City Council planned to follow up to consider an ordinance requiring face masks inside all of Bloomington’s indoor spaces. They were ahead of the game. Shortly after this consideration and before the Council’s public hearing, Minnesota's government implemented a statewide face mask mandate inside all public and commercial indoor spaces.
Guiding Economic Response
COVID-19 impacts have resulted in a budget shortfall of up to $17 million for Bloomington in 2020. Bloomington has used Polco to partner with residents to decide how to address this shortfall.
To reach more residents, Bloomington leaders promoted a budgeting poll through the City’s social media, email, and website. Residents who did not have internet access could call Parks and Recreation. City leaders included a Frequently Asked Questions page with the poll. Over 3,000 residents responded.
After reviewing resident feedback, the City Council elected to close a community center through the end of the year. This saved the City an estimated $390,000, helping to address the City’s budget shortfall.
"The use of the Polco citizen engagement platform has helped the City of Bloomington to increase engagement, improve transparency and inform decision-making on issues that matter to the city’s residents," said Kirby. "It is helping the City to stay abreast of public opinion and key trends, especially at a time when in-person engagement is significantly constricted due to a public health crisis."
To access our free COVID-related surveys and get input from your residents create a free account on Polco.
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A version of this article was originally published on The Atlas.