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2010 Grant Projects

In 2010, the Davenport Institute grant program took a slightly different approach from previous years by partnering with the online platform UserVoice to launch the Online Public Engagement Grant Program.

UserVoice is the leading SaaS solution for online constituent feedback and idea management. This simple solution lets governments engage citizens through both solution-gathering and prioritization. It reduces the time and labor costs of collecting feedback, while simultaneously increasing awareness and citizen engagement within the community.

Because many organizations and municipalities do not have a budget line item devoted to “citizen engagement,” the Davenport Institute developed the 2010 Online Public Engagement Grant Program in order to:

  • Offer important resources to municipal, educational, and non-profit organizations that are looking to involve their public in an important policy decision.
  • Provide consultation to these organizations regarding possible engagement process approaches, connecting leaders with the top online firm in the field
  • Promote the processes of online civic engagement throughout California, so that municipal leaders can involve their community in producing more informed policy outcomes.

Here are the three projects that were supported by this grant in 2010:

1. City of Fairfield — Public Budgeting

Project Description: Like many cities in California, Fairfield has been hard hit by the recent recession. The city has responded to the financial crisis by cutting staff and reorganizing services, but continues to face an ongoing deficit and the hard decisions that come with it. Recognizing that such difficult decisions require input from the community, Fairfield is reaching out to its citizens through an online engagement campaign headed by Communications Manager Gale Spears and Program Manager David White, both of whom have previous experience leading public engagement efforts in the city. The online component was made part of a larger “Priority-Based Budgeting effort.

Information was used in conjunction with the City’s Core Services Review to “prioritize programs and services, develop potential revenue measures, and explore partnerships.” The City recognizes the importance of such input to develop “authentic and accessible” solutions in these difficult financial times.

2. City of Martinez — General Plan

Project Description: The City of Martinez is conducting a comprehensive update of its General Plan for the first time in over three decades. Recognizing that public input is vital to the success of any long-term city plan, City elected and staff are conducting an extensive public outreach and participation. Results will guide decisions about land use and development over the next 20 years.

As the Davenport Institute has long recognized, civic engagement is most successful when it is supported throughout the organization rather than by only one or two staff members. The willingness of city staff to engage with residents to develop solutions to the challenges facing their community is a promising aspect of this venture. Nor does the City of Martinez relegate civic engagement to the realm of public information. Mr. Blunt explains that the project will “gather input on a) defining and/or reaffirming goals and confirming policy issues, and b) reviewing alternative strategy approaches. Once these efforts are conducted, summary reports will be compiled and presented to the task force along with staff recommendations. Ultimately, these . . . will make their way to the decision makers, the Planning Commission and the City Council.”

See the City’s UserVoice forum here.

3. Santa Barbara Noozhawk/ City of Santa Barbara – Participatory Budgeting

Project Description: Unlike other grant recipients, the recipient of the Santa Barbara grant is not a local government, but rather a private news source willing to partner with their local city government to engage citizens in budget decision-making. Noozhawk is an online news source in Santa Barbara that publishes stories both by professional journalists and by community members sharing their own stories on local activities. As such, Noozhawk is in an ideal position to support the public engagement efforts of the City of Santa Barbara.

Publisher William Macfadyen and Managing Editor Michelle Nelson are heading up the effort, which will provide valuable citizen input for the City of Santa Barbara. As with other cities in California, Santa Barbara’s budget outlook is bleak and the city is looking to its residents for help making difficult decisions. Noozhawk will provide information on the effects, outcomes and requirements of recommendations suggested through the civic engagement process and invite further participation in an informed dialogue. “Once that public opinion is gathered, we’ll share our findings with city officials who are seeking such input during their budget deliberations,” explains Macfayden adding that they hope to sponsor a workshop where elected officials, policymakers, stakeholders and community groups can discuss options face-to-face.