Six Strategies to Create Strong Government Initiatives
Anyone who consults for government knows the odds aren’t great that your data, conclusions or recommendations will make it direct from ink or electron to gavel or ballot. The itinerary taking elected officials from truth to action is peppered with stops for counterclaims, political pressures, longstanding promises, showboating and personal prejudices. In fairness, these same stops often make for circuitous routes to action even at home when parental authorities are presented information that should lead to better behavior.
My organization conducts public opinion surveys for local governments and expects/hopes that our clients do something substantive with our findings. To help clients take advantage of resident reconnaissance, we have created examples that describe how jurisdictions use resident opinion – or any data – to improve quality of community life. We have created a mnemonic to remind clients that strong initiatives for community improvement are not simply built on new resources that might come from tax or fee increases. The “E’s of Action” are six strategies that can make multi-dimensional action successful.
The E’s of Action
Envision: Use the data to plan – make a strategic plan, land use or comprehensive plan. Connect the data to an employee plan. Pearland, Texas used its survey results showing a need for improved mobility to identify key areas for strategic transportation planning.
Engage: Data can help connect different organizations or various departments within one local government. Partnerships with the private sector or between school districts and local government or between resident advocacy groups and local government are strong candidates for improving community. Hamilton, Ohio partnered with Marriot to finance a hotel that anchored the river walk and strengthened economic development that residents felt was flagging.
Educate: Sometimes marketing and communication are needed to improve the brand or change the misconceptions held by residents of their own community or their community’s services. In Greeley, Colorado, residents felt that the image of the hometown was ragged and not improving. City Council established a marketing campaign to improve not only resident perspectives about the city but also the opinion about Greeley of residents in nearby cities.
Earmark: This action angle refers to changes in the budget. It is the one used reflexively by most local governments confronted with pressures to improve. In Pocatello, Idaho, residents made a case to city council that the local animal shelter was not habitable even for the most decrepit mongrel. Council put a question on its citizen survey and over 85 percent of respondents indicated support for an improved facility for strays. Within a year, and by more than the 66 percent minimum vote required by law, residents approved a bond issue of $2.8 million and the facility was built.
Enact: Policies are key tools for improving communities. This “E” refers to policy changes such as those that modify land use zoning, improve recycling, add or remove regulatory requirements. In Boulder, Colorado, where affordable housing was known to be rare, city council approved an ordinance to permit accessory dwelling units (ADUs), small additions to homes in residential neighborhoods where tenants were allowed to live.
Evaluate: Typically, planned evaluation can help determine the wisdom of changes made in the service of the other five E’s. More often, local governments establish performance measures and targets for tracking progress toward goals without planning traditional evaluations. In Decatur, Georgia part of performance tracking includes data from resident opinion as well as traditional measures of government output, all integrated into the annual report.
If you want to see an example of a strong initiative that used all six E’s, go here.