How do you ensure your CARES Act money will have the most meaningful impact as it’s invested in the community? This is what the City of Decatur, IL, was grappling with in early 2020. Like many cities, Decatur has made it a priority – especially in the context of the pandemic – to ensure that its limited resources are allocated to serve the real needs of as many community members as possible. Determined to meet the most pressing needs of its residents to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, the City committed to ensuring the most equitable and effective reach of the limited funding.
In deciding how to distribute its CARES Act funding, the City of Decatur faced two main hurdles. The first was actually understanding the most pressing needs and priorities of its residents – in a timely manner. The City wanted to understand where residents thought fiscal resources would be most beneficial. Getting this resident input on a very specific question with enough time to incorporate feedback into the planning process was imperative. Second, Decatur faced the age-old STP challenge – how can the City include input beyond that which is expressed by the more vocal minority or STP (Same Ten People)? The City needed to get its City Council members on board with its proposed CARES Act funding allocation plans by ensuring that the plans reflected a broad perspective.
The Zencity Solution
In addition to using Zencity’s dashboard to monitor public discourse, in April of 2020, the City of Decatur issued a Zencity “COVID Awareness and Impact” Temperature Check survey, which received nearly 1700 responses.
With resident’s qualitative input quantified and analyzed into key themes, the City used these survey responses to build a well-informed grant program around the allocation of its CARES Act funding – including setting specific parameters for business relief grants that reflected the expressed needs of its residents.
Once it formed its plan, the City presented the aggregated and analyzed survey data to Council in support of its proposed allocation plan. The result: City Council adopted the proposed CARES Act funding allocations.
Once it began to actually announce its grant programming and allocate funding, the City Manager’s Office continued to measure its impact by using Zencity’s discourse and sentiment data as a barometer of public perception and support of the City’s pandemic response. In doing so, the City was able to see that its announcement of the first round of businesses reimbursement grants awarded by the city garnered 57% positive sentiment (see below). The City is preparing to announce grant recipients in its second round of reimbursement and as it does so, the City will continue to use Zencity to track and measure changes in sentiment and discourse volume to inform its next moves.
Data is so important, in large part because we're constantly competing against a personal story. There are individual stories our council hears and that has a tremendous amount of impact. So how do you use the data you gather to make the case for that particular story or to prove your story or disprove it? We leverage data and the multiple media modalities out there to ensure we have a broader perspective. We use Zencity on a daily basis to get a barometer of the public view on specific issues.
Jon D. Kindseth
Deputy City Manager, Decatur, IL