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Adapting for Impact: The Evolution of Community Engagement in Washoe County

Washoe County's Shift to Data-Driven Community Engagement
Washoe County's Shift to Data-Driven Community Engagement

The Challenge

In August of 2023, the Community Outreach Commission Support Team – part of the County Manager’s Office of Washoe County, NV – presented their plan for the “Citizen Advisory Board Reimagination” to the County Manager. The bottom line – the county’s Citizen Advisory Boards (CABs) were no longer a productive use of county resources and did not produce the results that the County was aiming for. A CAB was established for the eight areas of the country’s 36th largest county, spread over 6,500 square miles. While beloved by some, these recurring in-person meetings could no longer be justified due to the following:

  • Significant prep work required by county staff;
  • Meetings were held in the evenings and on weekends;
  • Plagued by low attendance, CAB meetings are low in attendance, featuring non-productive discussions, resulting in staff burnout.

While CABs were unproductive, the staff wanted to maintain the stage for interacting with residents. Instead, they wanted to establish a new, more innovative, accessible approach to community engagement.

The Zencity Solution

Candee Ramos, Washoe County’s Community Outreach Coordinator, presented County Manager Eric Brown with an alternative. Using data from a Zencity Engage survey, Ramos presented responses from the County’s Community Engagement Feedback Survey, which included questions such as, “How would you like to learn about Washoe County programs available to you?” and “How would you like to give feedback to Washoe County regarding concerns in your neighborhood?”.

The survey results showed, beyond a question of a doubt, that residents were not interested in in-person meetings – only 9% of respondents marked this as their top choice. 65% preferred to receive information via the county’s website. A whopping 82% said that their preferred method of communication to the county was through other electronic means such as text messages, emails, online platforms, call centers (Washoe311), or public comments. 41% of respondents said in-person meetings were not a valuable method for engagement.

The Impact

The first round of community feedback overwhelmingly supported discontinuing CABs due to low attendance and limited public participation. While some meetings attracted only a handful of non-participant attendees, others had the same few individuals attending regularly, with minimal public comments received annually. In contrast, a single survey conducted using the Zencity Engage tool gathered input from 1,647 individuals. The County is using the data from the Engage survey to pitch a new, more effective community engagement program to the County Commissioners.

Integrating feedback from surveying the community with the Engage tool, if the enhanced engagement options created are approved by the Commissioners, once fully implemented, this shift will significantly reduce staff workload, decreasing annual meetings from 72 to 6. Liaison meetings will provide valuable insights into citizens' interests, eliminating the need for repetitive presentations. Hot-topic community meetings have seen up to 100 attendees, a stark improvement over CAB attendance. The future iteration of community engagement in Washoe County will prevent staff burnout from frequent evening and weekend meetings and streamline administrative processes, saving time and resources while delivering better outcomes for residents.

A second round of an Engage survey is in the works as of winter 2024, and the goal is to provide feedback based on the initial survey feedback provided by community members and to receive additional input. Once a significant number of responses have been collected and a plan has been set in place based on those responses, the county will provide the new engagement plan in place of the CABs for consideration by the Board of County Commissioners. The revamped community engagement and outreach program is anticipated to be carried out starting in 2025.


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