City of Wilsonville creates platform for citizen engagement
In an effort to improve engagement with the community, the City of Wilsonville has launched a website for citizens to provide feedback — Let's Talk Wilsonville.
The site, which went live recently, is mainly designed as a hub for citizens to comment on City projects and priorities but will also allow them to provide general comments about anything from construction timelines to parking policy.
According to Communications and Marketing Manager Bill Evans, the City's primary website is useful for finding information but does not have a tool for discussing issues with the community. At the same time, he said the City has interacted with citizens via social media but that discourse on those platforms can often be unproductive.
"We're using a platform that's going to allow us to start to have two-way conversations," Evans told the Spokesman.
The website was built by EngagementHQ and will cost the City $1,000 a month to operate. However, City staff believe it could actually save the City money in the long run.
Previously, the City had an amalgamation of disparate websites for projects such as the Town Center Plan and the planning of a project to build the French Prairie Bridge across the Willamette River. And the City paid consultants to manage these websites.
"The cost of making this tool available is offset by not incurring those project website costs," Evans said.
The City also hopes the site will be more convenient and easier to find than having to search for individual project websites.
"If they have one place where they always go to engage with us they know this is where I can go to provide input. 'What surveys are available this month? Are there ways that I can get engaged?' They don't have to find the Wilsonville Town Center website or the French Prairie Bridge website. It's all going to be in one place," City of Wilsonville Planning Director Miranda Bateschell said during a Wilsonville City Council work session Aug. 5.
The website currently has a section for the City's ongoing project to establish an Equitable Housing Strategic Plan, where City Council will identify strategies for the government to try to make housing more affordable in Wilsonville. Currently on the site, there is a survey about housing in Wilsonville and a section for people to tell their story about why they moved to Wilsonville. There is also a poll about the Wilsonville Public Library summer reading program.
"It's going to take some time I think getting people in the habit of knowing there's a place people can go to to poke around and know what projects the city is working on and seeking public input (for) and tools to allow people to weigh in and drop in their perspective," Evans said.
To provide input on the website, the City requires citizens to register. And through registration, they must provide demographic information such as age, gender, race, address and income level. However, citizens can choose not to answer some of the questions. Evans said doing so will provide the City with useful information to make sure they are engaging the entire community rather than only certain subsets during the outreach phase of a project.
"(We can) see how many people are responding, who is responding and if we need to reach out to demographic groups that aren't responding we can reach out to them before the survey is over," Bateschell said.
Though past projects up until this point won't be on the website, details about projects that are completed moving forward will be archived.
"Having this type of tool provides that transparency and archiving even when a project has passed," Bateschell said during a Planning Commission meeting Wednesday, Aug. 14.
The City and EngagementHQ will also view posts to make sure they comply with the site's etiquette rules. If not, the post won't be published.
"We're not going to censor anything based on opinion but it allows us to make sure people are following rules of engagement and being civil," Evans said.
The site is live but Evans said new features could be added in the future. Some ideas posted by Evans or at the meetings include a "mythbusters" section where the City addresses rumors, a Question and answer section for City experts to provide information about a particular issue and an ideas board where citizens can post project suggestions. Evans also said he would soon add a "contact us" page for general questions.
"In this instance, one advantage, any time we want to make a change we can make it a lot quicker because we don't have a third party involved," Evans said.
Wilsonville Planning Commissioner Kamran Mesbah said social media has become the default conversation platform for the community and that information there often is not factual. He hopes that this tool can become a healthier alternative.
This is a great first step. Congratulations to the City," he said.
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