Public Engagement Associates has shown its ability to harness citizen voices to help produce better and more effective decisions. Our team has successfully transitioned to supporting our clients using virtual platforms and tool that engage residents, constituents and stakeholders. Examples of recent and current projects are:
School Systems on Boundary Changes
During the past year, Public Engagement Associates has assisted the two largest school districts in Maryland in their efforts to engage the public in important decisions on school boundaries. Both Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) asked PEA to help them design and conduct effective online meetings where county residents could learn about what is happening and give their input. The two school systems both emphasized the need to engage a wide range of participants who are representative of their county’s diverse population. In particular, they emphasized the importance of engaging their growing Hispanic population. Below is a brief summary of how PEA successfully met and exceeded the engagement goals in each county.
Montgomery County Public Schools
The Districtwide Boundary Analysis is a comprehensive assessment of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) boundaries to ensure that MCPS can continue to provide high-quality facilities that support educational programming for one of the largest and most diverse districts in the nation. Phase I citizen engagement began in late 2019 with PEA facilitating community meetings with more than 2,000 people in large and small group meetings before the COVID pandemic.
Phase II meetings scheduled for the fall of 2020 had to be conducted online and were designed to effectively disseminate updated information and get feedback on data that had been collected. Three public webinars were held with a total participation of about 500 people. In subsequent virtual meetings, PEA facilitators led small group discussions and polling to collect information and ideas from participants. In addition, five smaller zoom meetings were held that were targeted towards under represented communities. Two of these meetings were facilitated fully in Spanish. An additional 75 parents and other country residents attended these small group meetings. Read more here…
Prince George’s County Public Schools
The PGCPS Comprehensive Boundary Initiative began in the fall of 2020 with a round of virtual public meetings to explain initiative and to gather ideas and suggestions from the community. PEA worked closely with the school system to design and organize five large, virtual community forums – two of which were conducted in Spanish. Small group discussions in English and Spanish were held in the middle of each webinar and the comments and questions from each group were gathered and compiled. Information on participants and their views about the initiative were also collective through a series of polling questions.
There were a total of about 1,100 people who attended the webinars and more than 300 of these were from the Spanish speaking meetings Some Hispanic residents also attended the meetings held in English and so the total of Spanish participants was about 35% which is equal to their representation in the school system. PGCPS officials were delighted by this level of participation since Spanish parents and residents are often quite underrepresented in meetings in Prince George’s County. Read more here…
Ward 7 Action Summit
On Saturday, October 17th, Councilmember Vincent C. Gray hosted the Virtual Ward 7 Action Summit with more than 100 Ward 7 residents participating in a Zoom meeting format. The Summit followed an initial summit Councilmember Gray convened in late 2016 just before he was inaugurated into his first term, in which hundreds of Ward 7 residents provided important guidance for setting the legislative agenda for the Ward for the next four years.
The October summit focused on three primary challenges the Ward faces in this pandemic year: health, public safety, and education to brainstorm ways in which the Councilmember’s office – and the D.C. government as a whole – can work more effectively with Ward 7 residents both to address those challenges and improve the quality of life in the Ward. Residents recommended two critical priorities for health: providing more behavioral health services in the Ward and more access to specific health care services in the community (e.g., 24-hour urgent care, primary care, dental, etc.)
For public safety, residents identified five community-based public safety programs that were working well now: security camera programs, homeless street outreach, violence prevention programs, child and adult protective services, and block captains/neighborhood watch. They also identified three priority public safety areas for which they believed police should not get involved: providing jobs and peer-related activities for children instead of over policing; providing more violence interruption activities and programs (like Cure the Streets), and, expanding mental health and substance abuse services.
Finally, for education, residents identified three priority strategies public schools should pursue toward ensuring greater equity and success for students: providing mental health and other key services to help children overcome trauma of violence and the pandemic; helping teachers maintaining public health protocols when in-person school resumes and make classes smaller; and providing supplemental educational services to help students who have fallen behind to catch up. The Councilmember and his staff have used the Summit’s priorities to establish his legislative agenda for 2021 and beyond.
State of the Ward 8 Summit
On Saturday, October 24th, Councilmember Trayon White Sr. hosted the Virtual State of the Ward 8 Summit with more than 100 Ward 8 residents participating in a Zoom meeting format. Due to the pandemic, this was the first time the Councilmember convened the State of the Ward Summit online. Every year, Councilmember White has brought together more than 100 Ward 8 residents and activists face-to-face to chart out the direction and priorities for the coming legislative year.
In particular, this year, Councilmember White sought guidance from residents on eight legislative and budget issue areas for the 2021 legislative year. Prior to the summit, we worked with CM White’s staff to finalize five potential priorities in each of the 8 areas:
- Pre-K-12 Education
- Economic Development
- Senior Programs
- Youth Empowerment
- Health Equity
- Housing Equity
- Public Safety
- Pandemic Response
In the first half of the summit, residents discussed the potential priorities, identified additional priorities, then prioritized the top three issues for each of the eight areas. In the second half of the summit, breakout groups chose the legislative issue they were most interested in working on to developed draft actions to take in 2021. The Councilmember will use the input to shape his 2021 agenda and community members will continue to convene throughout 2021 in the issue area of their choice.
District 8: Prince George’s County, Maryland
We worked with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in collaboration with District 8 Councilmember Monique Anderson Walker’s office to convene two virtual community meetings focused on a study of an area called Henson Creek Village in Fort Washington in Prince George’s County. The two parts of the study are an environmental and ecological study of the area due to the regular flooding of properties in Henson Creek Village as well as an economic and market analysis for the office and commercial areas of the overall site, as it is ripe for redevelopment.
For both meetings we facilitated robust Q&A segments as well as significant polling to better gauge people’s views and perspectives on the site and their guidance for the parallel studies. Both meetings were well attended, with more than 125 residents attending each one. The project will culminate in the first half of 2021 with the final report and recommendations coming out of the environmental assessment and the economic and market analysis report.
Maryland Municipal League
City managers, city councilmembers, city and town clerks, and municipal department managers from across Maryland participated in a 3-hour virtual workshop hosted by PEA, Justice and Sustainability Associates, and the Maryland Municipal League. The interactive, January 2021 workshop titled, “Strategies for Effective Local Community Engagement, covered five main topics:
- Effective recruitment to community engagement
- The role of equity in community engagement
- Designing and facilitating effective community meetings
- The use of virtual tools and platforms
- How do you effectively follow on to community meetings & processes
The 30 workshop participants discovered how to effectively use virtual polling tools, the chat function, and facilitated breakout rooms, among other tools and practices. PEA plans to hold 60 minute to 3-hour trainings this spring, summer, and fall for all interested in enhancing their capacity to plan and convene effective meetings, both online and face to face.
NoMa Parks Foundation, Washington, DC
NoMa Parks Foundation embarked on a multi-year development project bringing new and vibrant public spaces to the NoMa neighborhood. The Foundation developed good working relationships with local organizations, community members and community leaders to ensure the community is informed about the issues surrounding NoMa Parks and to ensure that those who are interested have the opportunity to share their views.
PEA worked with the NoMa Parks Foundation to gather community feedback on the Florida and New York Avenue NE Intersection Project, colloquially referred to as “Dave Thomas Circle.” In partnership with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT), the NoMa Parks Foundation (NPF) presented the community with potential designs to transform the intersection into three new open spaces totaling approximately 43,000 square feet.
PEA designed and facilitated a virtual community meeting on May 18, 2020 via Zoom which was attended by more than 120 households. The presentations and video of the meeting were posted online accompanied by a survey to continue gathering community input. Read more here…
Economic Development for Fletcher Johnson Middle School
For more than a decade the Fletcher Johnson Middle School facility has been closed down due to under-enrollment even though it has been modernized significantly since its closing. The building (on Benning Road, near East Capitol Street) contains more than 300,000 square feet in size and is currently owned by DCPS. In recent years, various parties in D.C. have proposed different uses or re-uses for the facility, but none have gained favor. Most recently KIPP DC targeted it for purchase to redevelop as a charter school, but was turned down. Ward 7 Council Member Vince Gray wanted to make sure that whatever future use the facility gets developed for, that it has the full support of the Ward 7 community and in particular the residents and stakeholders within the closest neighborhoods to Fletcher Johnson.
In the Spring of 2018, the Council Member worked closely with PEA to initiate a process where community leaders and stakeholders engaged in a dialogue and prioritization of possibilities for the site, and delivered a formal plan and proposal to D.C. government about various options that would benefit Ward residents. DC Mayor Bowser accepted community recommendations and transferred management of the Fletcher Johnson Middle School to The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) for future development.
Rock Creek Far West Livability Study, Washington, DC
As the Community Engagement Project Manager, PEA led the community outreach process for the Rock Creek Far West Livability Study 2018-2019. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) initiated the Rock Creek West Livability Study (RCRW) to take a big picture look at the street network and identify concrete actions to increase transportation and safety options. This project focused on transportation safety and quality of life issues for all users. Working with the planning firm Nspiregreen LLC, PEA coordinating logistics and outreach to the community to recruit participants for three public workshops and two pop-ups, participated in Citizens Advisory Group meetings, coordinated a series of engagement activities at community events and ANC meetings.
The project also included developing and implementing a Public Involvement Plan that incorporated a project communications plans, developing an interactive website and tracking comments from the public, stakeholders and community organizations. The communications strategy also included social media support, i.e. Facebook/Twitter strategy, Mailchimp and Eventbrite integration and quality control and quarterly summaries of web analytics and engagement metrics.
The design and development of the public-facing project website met the design requirements of DDOT and the Office of the Mayor, with a focus on making the most current information easily available to the public. This included integrating a map-based commenting capability (wikimapping.com) to allow residents to identify walkability, safety, and related issues at specific intersections and along bike pathways.
Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI)
PEA continues to work closely with Create& to provide session management, and speaker recruitment for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI). Since 2017, we have assisted with planning and program content development for the national CHCI Leadership Conference and more recently worked with the organization to produce a series of one and two-day summits. These convenings have included a wide range of topics such as health care, environment and sustainability, diversity and inclusion, women’s rights, immigration, foreign affairs, science, technology, and corporate and business policy initiatives.
In addition to session management and speaker recruitment, PEA and Create& provide onsite event management including communications support, script drafting, content development, data management, navigating social media strategy, and collecting and synthesizing conference user commentary. During the COVID Pandemic, CHCI hosted all conferences and summits virtually with the help of the PEA’s planning team. All virtual events were offered free-of-charge to the public and provided a range of sessions addressing issues important to the Latino community. Additionally, the CHCI Virtual 2020 Leadership Conference included a Hack-a-thon and Pitch Competition coordinated by PEA and Create&.
Ellicott City, MD: Long Term Flood Recovery
PEA partnered with the Howard County Executive’s office and the Department of Planning and Zoning to design and facilitate a series of four “rECovery” meetings held October through December, in the aftermath of a July 30 storm that flooded Ellicott City’s historic Main Street and West End. These forums brought the community together to learn about recovery efforts of nearby jurisdictions (e.g., Frederick, Annapolis) that faced similar challenges and provided a forum to share ideas to help Ellicott City rebuild stronger and more resilient.
The first forum focused on the residents and business owners that had been hardest hit by the flood to help them gear up for the long-term recovery efforts. Subsequent sessions focused specifically on rebuilding and the environment, rebuilding and economic development, and rebuilding and historic preservation. Overall, several hundred residents and stakeholders participated in the process.
PEA also worked with Howard County to enable the community and key stakeholder groups (engineers, designers, preservationists, the business community, etc.) to propose “project Ideas” for how to rebuild Ellicott City as a model, resilient city. The ideas were organized and categorized as either part of a long-term process or as a potential short-term, ready-to-go strategy. A county-appointed Community Advisory Group published a report in January 2017 that summarized the recommendations for these projects.
In the spring of 2017, Howard County will be hiring an urban design/engineering firm to consult on the development of a long-term Master Plan and Master Watershed Plan for Historic Ellicott City. This plan should be completed by early 2018. Read more here…