By Russ Blackburn, City Manager and Kate Parmelee, Strategic Initiatives Director, City of Port St. Lucie
The future of our cities and counties are shaped by those who live there today. An ongoing challenge for local government leaders is finding ways to effectively engage residents so we can ensure our services and policies reflect their needs. According to a study by Microsoft, humans on average have an attention span of eight seconds (down from 12 seconds in 2000) undoubtedly due in part to the impact of technology and information overload. Alternatively, the typical three minutes allotted for public comment are not sufficient to provide comprehensive feedback, nor do public meetings typically attract significant numbers of diverse attendees.
One way the City of Port St. Lucie is working to meet these challenges is through reimagining the ways we engage citizens during our strategic planning process. Historically, turnout at strategic planning public workshops was low despite the City’s population of close to 190,000 residents, and attendees did not represent the full range of ages that make up this diverse City with a median age of 41.1.
To change that, Port St. Lucie introduced two engagement efforts last year: the annual Citizen Survey and Citizen Summit.
The Citizen Survey™, conducted by the National Research Center, Inc. provided statistically valid feedback from a random sample of residents, as well as, more than 5,000 residents via an online opt-in version. The Citizen Summit attracted more than 400 community members to this drop-in event on a Tuesday evening. The Citizen Summit was purposefully designed for all ages and included food, entertainment and giveaways. Residents provided feedback at interactive booths representing one of the City’s seven strategic goals. Participants received “PSL bucks” to “spend” at the various booths to tell us where they would like us to invest more tax payer dollars and provided us with comments. While teens and adults explored the booths, fun activities for children focused on civic responsibility, like recycling and designing a playground.
Following these engagement efforts, the City’s Mayor and City Council were provided with data from the Citizen Survey and Summit in advance of their annual strategic planning retreat and have strongly used this data in shaping key policy decisions.
It is critical to engage residents in the work of our governments. I encourage you to reexamine and reinvent how you engage to ensure you are reaching the broadest cross-section of your community.