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Polco News & Knowledge

What Is Community Engagement?

what is community engagement

What is community engagement exactly? Learn what it is and effective engagement tools that local governments love. 

Community engagement is the act of including residents in local government decisions that impact their lives. Resident feedback then influences government actions, policies, and budgeting.

Some may think community engagement is idealistic. But it's proven that an inexperienced group of people are more likely to reach the best answer to any problem than a single expert. Resident engagement harnesses this power of collective intelligence to solve complex government problems.

More inclusivity, strengthening resident trust in government, and a more resilient and participatory community are potent byproducts of engagement that are worthwhile pursuits all on their own. 

The problem is it's not always easy to get people involved. City council meetings have traditionally served as the arena for resident participation. But research shows only a small percentage of people have ever attended these events. Some governments use social media to get a pulse on their community. However, only the most opinionated people openly voice their opinion online.

In each situation, local governments risk acquiring misleading information from a vocal minority. Luckily new technology lets local governments reach more people faster then ever before. This provides better, more representative community feedback data for informed decisions.  

largo_Community Conversation

Types of Community Engagement 

Polco provides multiple community engagement solutions. 

Each community engagement tool has its own strength: focused, fast, representative, interactive, or offers real-time feedback.

The resulting data from each method show what community members care about most. Local governments can then use this information to make decisions based on real data rather than intuition, assumptions, or anecdotes.

The tools are effective on their own, but they are even more powerful when used collectively. 

what is community engagement

Benchmark Comparison Surveys
The gold standard of survey science, representative, comparable

Polco specializes in scientific surveying. We offer a suite of six scientific surveys for specific purposes. 

For instance, The National Community Survey (The NCS) collects resident opinions about their city and local government services. The National Business Survey (The NBS) gives governments a clear idea of what business leaders think of the local economy. The Community Assessment of Older Adults (CASOA) asks older residents for their opinion on the quality of life in their city.

All benchmark surveys are designed, conducted, and analyzed by a data science expert at National Research Center (NRC), Polco’s in-house data science lab.

Polco’s benchmark surveys undergo a rigorous scientific process to reach under-heard groups, which is a major hurdle for most local governments. The detail behind scientific survey methods leads to more representative results, meaning the data better reflects the community as a whole. 

Local governments can also compare their results to the national average so they have a better understanding of what their data mean. 

Local governments use Polco’s scientific surveys for strategic planning and decision-making. Organizations also continually conduct benchmark surveys to gauge how opinions change over time and to measure the impact of decisions, plans, and projects.

Benchmark Comparison Survey Mini Case Study

The City of Largo, Florida, used a Polco benchmark survey to find out where to spend Covid recovery dollars. Residents vocalized what they considered critical needs during the pandemic, such as housing and food insecurity. Largo officials then gave recovery dollars to nonprofits that filled those critical needs residents identified. 

what is community engagement

Online Surveys and Polls
Fast, efficient, targeted 

Local governments also conduct online surveys and polls on Polco. Leaders can choose to create their own survey or select from a library of pre-built survey questions created by our survey and data science experts.

Online surveys add more context specific issues and often focus on one topic. They are shorter than benchmark comparison surveys and are easier to conduct.

The online surveys are not as representative as benchmark comparison surveys. However, online survey results can be automatically adjusted, or auto-weighted, for better representation. 

Online Survey Mini Case Study

The City of Morro Bay, California, wanted to get the community’s input on what qualities and experience they thought the City's new police chief should possess. Officials posted an online survey on Polco to find out. The City then selected the best candidate based on residents’ recommendations.

what is community engagement

Polco Live Real-time Polling
Instant feedback, dynamic, interactive

Instant polling tool Polco Live lets local governments survey residents in real-time. Live surveying is a way to make meetings, webinars, and conferences more interactive. The format encourages more participation during an event and provides immediate data.

Participants can access the live poll through their phones without having to download an app. The Polco Live tool also lets users see the most popular comments from verified residents and demographic breakdowns instantly. 

Polco Live Mini Case Study

The Town of Flower Mound, Texas, used Polco Live to make meetings more fun and participatory. Residents used their phones to respond to polls posted by the Town during a live meeting. Questions included, “What do you love most about Flower Mound?”, “What do you want Flower Mound to be known for?”, and “In what areas could the Town improve?” 

Participants could then immediately see the results. The experiment helped the Flower Mound leaders come up with new ideas and make strategic decisions. 

Balancing Act Simulations
Interactive, empathy-builder, participatory

Balancing Act, which recently joined Polco, offers a variety of simulations that put residents in their decision-makers shoes. The simulations let residents can see the everyday challenges government leaders face—from housing shortages to budget shortfalls. 

For example, Balancing Act's Budgeting Simulation mimics a government's actual budget. Residents must balance the budget and fund projects they think are the most important. Through this process, community members experience the tough trade-offs involved in allocating government dollars first hand.

The simulations help local governments base difficult conversations in reality; Residents know what is and what isn't a possibility. By educating the public on real government constraints, leaders can build support for initiatives and policies that residents may not have previously understood. 

Balancing Act Simulation Mini Case Study

The City of Norfolk, Virginia, successfully passed a property tax increase with help from the Budget Simulation. The simulation showed what was necessary to make up for a $13.3 million deficit and fund programs and projects that were important to the community.

There are many ways governments can connect with their community members. Regardless of the strategy, local governments that prioritize resident engagement tend to be higher-performing organizations overall. Find out what engagement strategy would work best for you and start making better decisions based on data.

Get Started With Community Engagement

Online tools have made it easier than ever before for governments to engage with residents for better decision-making. If you’d like to learn more about how you can get started with community engagement, speak with one of our experts. 

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