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Engaging Residents in ARPA Strategy Without False Expectations

My residents are talking about the relief funding coming in; my community desperately needs this aid; how can I engage without creating false expectations?

What’s clear from both New Orleans and Lafayette is that federal spending is under high scrutiny and for federal aid programs to succeed, local governments need to ensure they’re both meeting real needs and communicating effectively about their programs. In parallel, city and county leaders are wary. They want to make sure to align with residents and to communicate openly, but they do not want dialogue or civic engagement to create false expectations, especially when residents might not have the full picture or complete understanding of the federal funding their community is receiving.

Community engagement, done right, will increase transparency without creating false expectations and can provide important insight for local government leaders into their residents’ budget priorities, their understanding of federally funded programs, and more. Community surveys are one great tool we’re seeing from our work with over 200 communities across the United States to accomplish this. Asking residents for their feedback around federal aid strategy can be scary, but done strategically it can be wonderful.

One city in Southern California decided to run a very broad survey about resident budget priorities by asking about investment in city services more generally. The survey, curated by survey experts at Zencity and implemented by multiple cities and counties across the country, asks about levels of satisfaction with various city services – and whether they would invest more, less, or the same in each service. In this way, the city, which asked to remain anonymous, can check their residents’ general “temperature” around different service areas which it’s considering investing ARP relief funding in without explicitly committing to residents it will invest in those services. This particular city wants to understand its community members’ most pressing needs and priorities by demographics – and the online, statistically valid survey will help them to do this so that leadership can work towards more equitable funding allocations.

In Tennesse, one county we’re working with is also interested in resident feedback but hesitant to create a sense of commitment via civic engagement. So, the County decided to put out a brief survey specifically around infrastructure. In this case, the County knows it will be investing federal relief funding in infrastructure, but wants community input around the specific types of infrastructure projects it will be allocating funding towards.

Zencity supports the local leaders working tirelessly at the frontlines of the pandemic. Learn how we can help you build a robust community engagement strategy to ensure you distribute your stimulus funds equitably and effectively by downloading our Guide to Local Government Stimulus Funding Allocation. 

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