4 Safe Bets for Working with Residents: Lessons from Sin City

I am willing to bet that your city probably has a variety of problems to solve, with limited resources. Almost every city faces the challenge of staying focused on its most critical priorities, and it can be daunting for a city to take on the task of determining what it looks like to “improve education” or “increase public safety.”

One way to help your city ensure it is delivering meaningful results for residents is to gather advocates, service providers, and city staff together with residents whose daily lives will be affected by government decisions, for a discussion on what residents value most about city living. In addition to gathering the invaluable perspective of the city’s customers, this exercise can reveal incremental strategies that will help achieve the overarching goal. For instance, many cities have goals of reducing the time it takes to respond to a fire. But a city that invites stakeholders to participate in this conversation will consider other aspects of fire safety, such as why people call 911, and how many fire hazards are in homes. Getting a glimpse into what fire safety means to residents is helpful for the city to develop strategies, as well as measures of progress.

It might seem complicated to get residents involved in the the discussion of prioritizing and delivering city services, but GovEx has seen it work. And, though what happens in Vegas is *supposed* to stay in Vegas, we’re going to share four steps used in Sin City to galvanize residents, city staff, and other stakeholders.

  1.    Identify your end game*
  2.    Choose your strategy*
  3.    Know your players and their roles*
  4.    Go all in*

*all puns intended

Las Vegas’ vibrant downtown is a destination for nightlife and sees its fair share of tourists. But the City is deeply focused on improving the day-to-day lives of those who live and work in Las Vegas — mitigating traffic problems, ending homelessness, increasing graduation rates, reducing risk, and diversifying the City’s economy. These priorities were identified through the City’s collaborative strategic planning process.

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Identify Your End Game
When Las Vegas Fire and Rescue (LVFR) was chosen as a pilot department for the City’s new performance initiative, Results Vegas, the department decided to develop a framework to measure progress toward its priorities with stakeholder input. In crafting its stakeholder engagement plan, the department needed to determine what it hoped to accomplish when bringing stakeholders together. LVFR decided that its “end game” was to build relationships and educate neighbors about the functions of the fire department.

Choose Your Strategy
Because the goal was to build relationships, LVFR’s chose a strategy that would allow the department to hold one-on-one and small group discussions between community members and subject-matter experts. LVFR invited its stakeholders to participate in a series of in-person meetings at the department’s central administration building. These conversations were helpful in establishing a mutual understanding of fire safety, and helped LVFR learn the best way they could be responsive to community need.

Know Your Players and Their Roles
As the lead department for the City’s community risk reduction strategy, LVFR identified its stakeholders by leveraging the intimate knowledge that city council had of each ward. LVFR asked council members to recommend active community members to participate in the meetings.

On the day of the stakeholder meeting, Chief Willie McDonald offered opening remarks signaling the importance of the conversation and framing expectations for participants.

“Every fire department I have worked in has used performance measures, but often it is just busy work. Las Vegas is different because it uses data to monitor trends, make decisions, and make changes”

Go All In
Because the participants were community members rather than traditional public safety stakeholders (such as hospitals and ambulance companies), the conversation ended up focusing on engagement and education. Through the day, LVFR heard that a holistic approach to fire safety would result in fewer calls for service. Together, participants discussed solutions such as identifying and mitigating fire hazards, public programs on smoke alarm maintenance, referrals to alternative departments, partnerships with community organizations and nonprofits, and risk assessments. LVFR used that information to develop strategies and targets for success.

Other city departments led similar conversations with their stakeholders, and these groups plan to continue meeting. As the City continues to expand this engagement process to additional departments, the hope is that residents will have a new level of trust in their government, and the City will know that is it truly serving the community. And the next steps are clear: Las Vegas will use its newly launched performance management initiative, Results Vegas, to ensure meaningful progress toward the City’s priorities and continue to update stakeholders on the results.

Your Turn
While your city’s approach will be customized according to your environment and needs, GovEx recommends the general approach outlined below. For more details and examples, please see the GovEx Community Engagement Playbook.

1. Identify Your End Game

Begin by identifying what you wish to accomplish by engaging stakeholders. Is there a new initiative you’d like to share information on? Is it budget season? Do you want to gather input on a proposed policy? Maybe you simply want to tell your city’s story using data. Whatever your city wishes to accomplish, ensure that it is clearly stated, and that the participants, strategy, and next steps are reflective of that end game.

2. Choose Your Strategy

When choosing your city’s strategy for engaging its residents, it’s important to build on opportunities that are already in progress, such as strategic planning processes, surveys, and visioning sessions. Of course, some approaches may not be possible due to your staff capacity and other barriers, so consider more scalable tools, such as social media, your city website, and other online platforms to reach your stakeholders. Some communities may not have access to online platforms, so consider whether in person meetings are the best way to reach your targeted community.

3. Know Your Players and Their Roles

Who should be in the room depends on the goals you are trying to achieve. What you ask of each participant will vary, whether the focus is on listening, telling participant stories, or providing subject-matter expertise. To identify your participants, begin by thinking through everyone who might be affected by the change you wish to make. If you’re looking for data experts, leverage existing networks such as Code for America Brigades, Women Who Code, or other local tech meetups. If you want to work with the average citizen, go where the people are–faith centers, community centers, neighborhood association meetings. Talk to those groups and ask who they respect and listen to. You may find that you begin hearing the same
names come up again and again. Find those people or groups and be clear about what you are asking of them to ensure that they will be active stakeholders.

4. Go All In

The importance of follow-up cannot be overstated. Preparation to make sure you get the most out of your engagement is critical to success and following up is just as important as what happens on the actual day that you bring your stakeholders together. Begin the engagement by setting clear expectations of your participants: How many meetings will there be? What exactly are you asking of them? Capture contact information so that you can communicate updates and calls to action. No matter the medium, always be sure to leave participants with clear next steps and a timeline.

Want more?

We would love to hear your thoughts and questions regarding this approach, and your own experience and plans for engaging stakeholders.

Katherine Klosek: kklosek1@jhu.edu @katklosek

GovEx: centerforgov@gmail.com @gov_ex

Reach out to Las Vegas to learn more about their approach! Special thanks to Tori Carreon.

Tori Carreon: vcarreon@lasvegasnevada.gov @ToriCarreon

For more detailed steps and examples, see the GovEx Community Engagement Playbook.