Submitted by Sharon Hanson, Marshall City Administrator
For Marshall to have a productive future, effective communication with citizens is essential. Effective communication benefits citizens and helps the City meet goals in many ways:
- Communication encourages informed participation.
- Communication builds community pride and satisfaction. The more citizens learn about City services, the better they understand how their tax dollars are used and the better they feel about their government.
- Communication encourages growth, attracts good employees, and improves services. A good reputation can also draw people to our diverse community, encourage business development, and attract capable employees who will ultimately strengthen City services.
Recent town halls with Marshall City councilmen is a first step in that direction. Attendance numbers and variety of topics discussed proved it was a success.
When public engagement is done right, information gained can be insightful for the City’s future direction. But when it’s not, there is potential for a few squeaky wheels to dominate the discussion and the silent majority remains silent. That is why when considering the type of public engagement strategies, the City of Marshall will strive to involve residents across a broad spectrum such as varying age groups, race, income and education levels.
Research suggests many people engage in civic communications using multiple channels—they may sign a paper petition for one issue or comment online about another. Recently the Marshall Area of Chamber and Marshall Economic Development Authority requested feedback via Facebook on the needs of Marshall. With over 10,000 views, response from over 700 individuals and 215 comments, this survey method was able to reach the broadest base possible by allowing people to engage when convenient and without having to leave the home.
Another example in an an effort to reach residents, the city of Stillwater is currently working on an update to its comprehensive plan and is using Polco, an innovative engagement platform where residents can have input into the community decision-making process. The city will post questions directly to residents and receive data to help inform local policy decisions. By increasing civic engagement through web-based polling, there is an opportunity to meet Stillwater residents where they are.
In addition to seeking ways to interact on-line via surveys, in the coming months the City of Marshall will be identifying different communication strategies such as redesigning the City’s website, increasing our use of social media, considering promotion of city resources through video or live streaming. Future work on updating the City’s Comprehensive Use Plan will also increase public engagement opportunities.
Input provided by city residents at town halls and future participation methods, and the ability to keep engagement high is likely dependent on the City’s ability to show that their time had impact. Regardless of whether a decision or information shared was counter to their liking, giving background information in an objective way and explaining the outcome is critical to the long-term success of any engagement strategy and we hope to do that in the coming months. More participation means more informed communities on the important city issues. We need all residents to be engaged in conversation about the future of Marshall.