In 2017, the Borough of State College, PA, began working on a cross-departmental, strategic communications and operations plan pertaining to snow removal. The team included the Borough Manager’s Office, Parking Director, Public Works Director, Police Chief, and other key actors in the snow emergency/removal operations.
In 2019, State College leadership started implementing the strategic plan. One of the key challenges the Borough was trying to tackle was consistent implementation across departments – especially when it came to communicating to the public about what it meant to be under a “snow emergency”. This includes moving cars from snow removal zones and clearing sidewalks. Additionally, the Borough was challenged with measuring the impact and effectiveness of the strategic plan. Was the Borough doing a good job with its winter services? Were there ways that they could improve? To answer these questions, the Brough Manager’s Office turned to the Zencity platform to take a retrospective and comparative look at the 2020 winter season.
The Zencity Solution
State College, PA, used Zencity’s benchmarking capabilities to measure how effective its snow operations were. Did residents view the Borough’s winter weather services positively? Was the work on the strategic plan actually making a difference? Zencity’s analyst team dove into the data and created an extensive report.
By measuring resident satisfaction in State College around winter weather, and comparing satisfaction scores to similar communities, Zencity was able to show that State College was in fact performing higher than peer municipalities. Specifically, residents were expressing higher levels of satisfaction than dissatisfaction with winter weather services in State College than residents in similar, Northeast communities.
Positive sentiment on official communications in response to winter weather in State College was 10X higher than the negative sentiment.
This validated for the Borough and the multiple departments that had worked hard to execute on the updated winter operations strategy plan that it was, in fact, moving the needle. Additionally, the benchmarking report also helped the involved departments understand where there was still room for improvement: owning the community’s narrative around winter weather operations.
The data showed that in other cities, residents relied far more heavily on “official,” city-run communication channels for winter weather information while State College residents were turning to news and other non-city-run outlets to get information about winter weather.
With this information, the strategic team agreed that although the data shows they came up with a great operations strategy and are executing well, they still need to work on the communications side of things. The strategic team set a shared goal: to make the Borough the official source of information regarding local weather anytime the Borough is involved. To do this, the Borough has begun putting a communications plan in place to align messaging and strategy across all involved departments about all-weather patterns and winter operations, not just emergency situations. Communicating regularly about services – whether a standard 2 inches of snow is involved or a massive storm – will also allow the Borough to promote its good work – for example, the green considerations that are being taken when treating roads and clearing snow during the winter.
By measuring resident satisfaction levels and taking a comparative look at community input, the Borough was able to track the performance of their winter operations and measure the success of a strategic plan in its first year of implementation. Moreover, after learning how well the Borough was doing, Borough leadership used the same comparative data to understand where they can do even better, and used the data to grow the plan in order to continue to improve both services and community relationships.
With Zencity’s benchmarker, it was very powerful to see - through data - that we were performing so well, especially because of how hard our staff worked during the pandemic and because we had to adapt operations as a result. Nonetheless, we were still able to provide a high level of service. The impact of this positive feedback has had on key leaders in our organization and their teams is invaluable. Focusing on these positives also gives us even more momentum to continuously improve - and the data helped show us how we can improve and grow as well.
Assistant to the Borough Manager, State College, PA