Alexandria's Civic Engagement Policy
What's Next Alexandria - Developing Alexandria's Civic Engagement Handbook
Over the course of the What's Next Alexandria process, community members worked together to develop civic engagement principles, a civic engagement process template, key outcomes demonstrating success, and a communications and outreach strategy. These four items comprise the core of Alexandria's Handbook for Civic Engagement which guides all City projects. On Saturday, January 25, 2014 City Council adopted Resolution 2597 to establish as City policy the Civic Engagement Principles and concepts contained in the Handbook developed during the What's Next Alexandria process.
Below are links to documents presented at the public hearing:
City Council Public Hearing Materials - January 25, 2014
- January 25 Memo to City Council
- January 8 Memo to City Council
- Civic Engagement Policy Resolution 2597 (adopted January 25, 2014)
- Implementation Action Plan (final, January 2014)
- Alexandria's Handbook for Civic Engagement (Final, January 2014)
- Presentation to City Council
- Community Comments received on September Draft Handbook
- Community Comments Received Post December 30 Draft
- Blank Interactive Framework Form for Future Projects
December 2013 Revised Draft of Alexandria's Handbook for Civic Engagement
- Full Color Version - PDF
- Matrix of Sept.6-Oct. 11 Community Comments and City responses
- Text Only Version
Additional draft materials for January 2014 Council Consideration
What's Next Alexandria - Community Dialogues
Alexandrians participated in four Community Dialogues to collaborate on improving the City's public participation process, including development of principles of engagement and a framework for the planning process.
4th Community Dialogue - June 24, 2013
The final Community Dialogue was held Monday, June 24, 2013 at First Baptist Church, 2932 King Street. Community members reviewed the draft elements of the Handbook for Civic Engagement and collaborated on communications strategies.
- Meeting Agenda
- Draft Preliminary Outline of the Handbook for Civic Engagement
- Photo of Map - Where do you live/work?
- Compiled Feedback from Activity 1_Verbatim
- Compiled Feedback from Activity 2
- Compiled Feedback from Activity 3_Verbatim
- Summary of Responses_Activity 3
- Scanned Completed Activities 1 and 2
- Additional Completed Activities 1 and 2- completed and received after June 24th
- Scanned Table Worksheets_Activity 3
3rd Community Dialogue - April 30, 2013
More than 130 community members participated in What's Next Alexandria's 3rd Community Dialogue on April 30th at First Baptist Church. The community finalized the principles of civic engagement and discussed concrete steps for achieving the principles.
- Photos of Individual Activity Worksheets
- Photos of Group Activity Worksheets
- Compiled feedback from Individual Activity_Verbatim
- Compiled feedback from Group Activity_Verbatim
- Summary of Individual Activity Responses
- Summary of Group Activity Responses
- Summary of Meeting Evaluations
- Compiled Meeting Evaluations_Verbatim
- Photos of Completed Meeting Evaluation Sheets
2nd Community Dialogue - January 29, 2013
Approximately 120 Alexandrians participated in the second Community Dialogue on January 29th to refine principles of engagement and begin work to develop a framework for the planning process.
- Video webcast and chat
- Virtual Table
- Photo of Map - Where do you live/work in Alexandria?
- Compiled feedback from Principle Statements Exercise
- Compiled feedback from Framework Exercise
- Photos of Worksheets - Principle Statements Exercise (Note: This is a large file and may take some time to load.)
- Photos of Worksheets - Framework Exercise (Note: This is a large file and may take some time to load.)
- Summary of Meeting Evaluations
- Scanned Meeting Evaluations (original forms as completed by attendees)
- Compiled Meeting Evaluations (verbatim responses grouped by question)
1st Community Dialogue - November 15, 2012
Approximately 165 Alexandrians participated in a Community Dialogue on November 15. That night, after hearing results of the community poll and remarks by Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, founder and former President of AmericaSpeaks and Executive Director of the of the National Institute for Civil Discourse, attendees worked together on principles of engagement.
- Meeting Agenda
- Presentation of Community Poll Results and the What's Next Process
- Presentation by Dr. Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer
- Video Webcast
- Photo of Map - Where do you live and work in Alexandria?
Each table answered the following questions, individually and as a group:
- What does ideal engagement feel like?
- What is expected of you as an engaged citizen?
- What do you expect in return for your effort?
Group Work on the Principles of Engagement
What's Next Alexandria - Online Engagement History
- During the What's Next Alexandria Community Dialogues, the City of Alexandria tested and evaluated live Internet video engagement. This online option served as a Virtual Table, allowing community members who could not attend in person to watch it unfold in real time, participate with other viewers in group exercises through a moderated live chat, and tell us what they thought of this tool for future use.
Online Comment Board - May 2013
- Review the Revised Draft Civic Engagement Framework . Community feedback was received on the revised Framework from May 9 through May 23. Comments will inform the final draft framework that will be shared at the June Community Dialogue.
Online Poll on Civic Engagement Principles: March 19 - April 9, 2013
- At the January 29 Community Dialogue, community members worked together to develop civic engagement principle statements to guide public participation in Alexandria. Subsequent to the meeting, facilitators from the tables collaborated with staff to synthesize the 17 table statements into 8 single statements. The community participated in ACTion Alexandria's online poll to affirm the principle statements. We had a great response! A total of 160 community members participated in the poll, the majority of whom supported the principles as written. At the next Community Dialogue on April 30, participants will have the opportunity to affirm the Principles based on feedback received from this poll. Summary of Civic Engagement Poll Responses and Copy of Poll
Response to Poll Comments:
- We received 160 responses, 85% of whom supported the principles. The results of the poll were posted (above) shortly after the poll closed. Many people provided comments with their poll response and we very much appreciate the thought that went into these. All of the comments were reviewed to determine what changes would be made. About a third of the total comments provided specific suggestions about the principles. Of those, some included suggestions to tighten the language, which we incorporated. There were also a variety of specific suggestions for word changes – changes that would alter the meaning of the principles. Because there was no consistency among these suggestions, and because the great majority of poll respondents supported the principles as written, we did not incorporate these changes.
- There was an additional set of specific comments that are more detailed and, we believe, provide guidance for implementing the principles. We plan to include these suggestions into the civic engagement handbook that will guide future civic engagement practices.
- Four people wrote that the statements were too long or that there were too many principles; this may very well may be true, but we have decided not to make wholesale changes to the statements since they had such wide support as written. Finally, many people commented that while the principles are valuable, the key to success will be implementation.
Principles of Engagement Online Poll - January 2013
- From January 4-14, 2013, the City of Alexandria and ACTion Alexandria invited Alexandrians to participate in an online poll to further refine work begun at the November 15, 2012 What's Next Alexandria Community Dialogue to develop Alexandria's Principles of Civic Engagement . The online poll asked participants to confirm eight principle categories created in response to community feedback. The categories were: Accessible and Informed Participation; Civility; Early Involvement; Inclusiveness and Equity; Meaningful Engagement; Mutual Accountability; Sustained Cooperation; and Transparency. Participants were asked to confirm the draft principle categories by selecting them, or choose not to confirm a principle by not selecting it. They were then invited to write in additional principle categories and statements.
- A total of 130 community members responded to the online poll, the majority of whom confirmed the principle categories as proposed, with the strongest support shown for Transparency and Accessible and Informed Participation, with Civility, Early Involvement, and Inclusiveness and Equity following close behind. Additional principles/statements were also provided by respondents. Most of these suggestions were relevant to the eight draft principle categories proposed and will be included in materials used to wrap up work on the principles during the Second Community Dialogue on January 29, 2013, at 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church. At that meeting, the community will develop supporting statements for the civic engagement principle categories, and will discuss the planning process framework, including concrete steps and engagement tools for achieving the principles.
Community Poll - Fall 2012
- The community poll on the future of civic engagement in Alexandria, hosted by ACTion Alexandria, closed on October 25 with more than 1,600 Alexandrians having participated. Poll results are posted below and a summary was shared at the Community Dialogue on November 15. The poll was just the first step in the What's Next Alexandria initiative to collect input on what you think about civic engagement, both in terms of your personal experience and your suggestions for improvement.
Details on Poll Distribution and Response
- The poll was distributed online on the ACTion Alexandria website and on paper at various locations throughout the community including recreation centers, libraries and through community organizations between September 18, 2012 and October 25, 2012. The poll consisted of 10 questions about civic engagement and planning for the City's future. In order to reach as many residents as possible, news of the survey was distributed via the City's eNews service, City website, media advisories, by email to City Commission members, community and civic organizations, past participants in planning processes, ACTion Alexandria email list, and to several neighborhood listserves.
What's Next Alexandria - Community Feedback
Members of the community shared some inspiring and thoughtful commentary on civic engagement in Alexandria. This page provides a sampling from each What's Next Alexandria Community Dialogue.
April 30, 2013
- "We had consensus on our ideas and suggestions for the various questions. We provided tangible suggestions for city staff to use."
- "Most importantly, I think just the bringing people together is a good start. I think the people at our table were motivated and ready to act."
- "We have listed some ways to improve civic engagement. We have agreed on most of the initiatives presented."
- "Not me, but someone else suggested establishing a corps of neighborhood ambassadors with specific duties and city staffer to hold them accountable. Great idea!"
- "The average age of those attending the forum is approximately 55? More should be done to reach out to and engage young people. Consider partnering with groups and organizations that serve and work with youth."
- "La participación de todas las presentes va a tener éxito." (Everyone’s participation will bring success.)
- "Youth voice was heard and represented and the importance of participation of diverse group of citizens reinforced."
January 29, 2013
- "I feel good about the process this evening and thought we did well as a group to come to consensus, listen to one another, share and be supportive. Tonight was more focused, but also our second one."
- "One member of the table commented that looking at the people in the room it looked like every other city meeting. If, somehow, more people that don’t normally engage with the city could come, that would be useful."
- "I think the process is going well. It’s good that the process has been so transparent. I appreciate all the effort."
- "We refined our ideas and clarified our thinking on several issues. We attempted to take our hopes and frustrations with process and our love of our city, and tried to formulate a better way forward."
- "Opened a dialogue with a diverse group of committed citizens. Excellent collaboration."
- "There was a good faith effort and lots of energy and engagement at our table. [Redacted] and [redacted] were fabulous facilitators!"
- "Bundle thoughts and ideas from previous events into a concept for operation principles. Take a concrete example where civic engagement is low (or could be improved) and discuss how to operationalize and principles."
- "You’ve given some residents a say in future planning, given us an opportunity to meet other concerned citizens and learn about city processes."
- "There needs to be a more well-defined relationship or balance between citizens and city staff. For example, many people only feel satisfied in a process when they get their way. Why does the city hire educated, trained and experienced city staff if they are not trusted to make decisions? Compromise is a responsibility of citizens that staff can help them reach."
November 15, 2012
- “We began to think differently and more sensitively about participation in process, what we can bring to the table and how that participation will enrich us as well as the community.”
- “The "What's Next, Alexandria?" forum is an excellent idea from the city leaders. We need to further advertise and capitalize on its potential to resolve citizen's concerns and hold city politicians responsible.”
- “You have successfully brought members from all over the community together and engaged us in a process of getting to know each other and starting to talk about things that matter.”
- “We expect action, respect, impact, inclusion, explanation of decisions, community services, engagement with elected officials, responsive and accountable to our feedback. We expect a voice.”“The meeting fostered a feeling of acceptance. It made me feel committed to this process.”
- “The city leaders have shown that they are receptive to listening to citizen's concerns and will try to resolve them.”
- “If we are fully engaged in the process there is no ‘them’, we are all ‘us’.”
- “We really need to develop a way all concerns are heard and persons not feeling like they are on a fast moving train.”
- “We have accomplished the beginning of a positive, constructive dialogue to better improve our community.”
- “This is a first step toward more civility and engagement.”
- “In return for our efforts we expect that our team’s ideas will be heard, that there will be consensus and follow up regarding our community policies and priorities.”
- “We need an implementation/action plan that is citizen led with a funding mechanism to support the effort.”
- “Involve the stakeholders from the beginning and let the group shape the process.”
- “I expect consistency in the process, an interactive exchange of ideas leading to clear decisions which employ the general consensus of those involved, but also measured consideration of dissenting opinions. Decisions should be actionable and implemented swiftly. Decision-makers must be held accountable.”
- “I expect my ideas to be acknowledged (not necessarily accepted) and to leave feeling proud of my community. Even if my ideas are not accepted I will leave the room supporting the decisions of the group.”
- “I would hope that Alexandria citizens engage with each other and decision-makers with more civility and willingness to compromise.”
- “How (do we) engage the unengaged, in order to get a more representative and diverse participation?”
- “Engaged citizens are honest, ready to compromise, and are part of the solution. Leave your ego at the door, open your mind and LISTEN.”
- “We have to find ways to involve the people who have dismissed or given up on the process of engaging in the Democratic process.”
- “As the process evolves charge (urge) people to investigate best practices and study successful initiatives that we can learn from.”
- “Participate and be informed, speak intelligently and constructively, and then have a willingness to accept outcome of fair process.”
- As an engaged citizen, “I am expected to be a respectful and empathetic participant. I will be active in my participation, using facts to support opinion, honoring the process and those others who participate. I will not neglect more traditional civic duty – such as voting. I will make continued effort to inform myself on a broad range of issues and bring that knowledge to the table. I will focus not only on problems but more importantly – solutions.”
- We want “to feel heard and respected, and to see the impact of our effort. “
- “Establish a culture of community-wide engagement and develop relationships that last beyond the meetings.”
Resources and Background Information on Civic Engagement
- Alliance for Innovation - White paper: Connected Communities: Local Governments As a Partner in Citizen Engagement and Community Building
- America Speaks
- Consensus Building Institute
- Deliberative Democracy Consortium - Model Public Participation Ordinance
- Everyday Democracy
- Harvard Kennedy School, Saguaro Seminar on Civic Engagement
- Institute for Local Government
- International Association for Public Participation
- National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation
- National League of Cities -- Includes examples of Civic Engagement and Planning for Stronger Local Democracy Toolkit
- Pepperdine School of Public Policy – Davenport Institute for Civic Engagement
Jurisdictions with notable civic engagement programs or reports:
- Arlington County, Virginia
- Norfolk, Virginia
- Boston – Community Engagement Strategy
- Chicago: Dialogue and Deliberation for Civic Engagement in Chicago: Building a Community of Practice
- Decatur, Georgia
- Denver, Colorado: South Lincoln Housing Redevelopment
- Eau Claire, Wisconsin: Clear Vision Eau Claire
- Illinois Department of Transportation, Circle Interchange Stakeholder Involvement Plan (SIP)
- a blueprint for defining methods and tools to educate and engage stakeholders in the decision-making process for this project.
- King County, WA: Countywide Community Forums, Public Engagement Program Evaluation
- New Hampshire: New Hampshire Listens
- New York Regional Planning
- Portland, Oregon Office of Neighborhood Involvement
- Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Portsmouth Listens
- Salem Sustainable Cities Initiative: Civic Engagement Strategies
- San Francisco, California
- Toronto: Review and Reflection on Current Practices and Future Approaches
- Utah: Envision Utah
- Vancouver, Canada: Greenest City Initiative
Examples of online engagement platforms
- Action Alexandria – brings together neighbors and local nonprofit organizations to exchange ideas, coordinate efforts, and solve problems in our community.
- Civic Commons – collaborative catalog of civic apps to help cities engage
- Code for America - working to change the way cities work through technology and public service
- Crowdsourcing - obtains ideas by soliciting contributions from a large group of undefined people from the online community
- IdeaScale – online civic engagement platform
- Mindmixer – online civic engagement platform
- Neighborland – online civic engagement platform
- OpenPlans – non-profit focused on open government and transportation
- Open Town Hall – online civic engagement platform
- The Project for Public Spaces -- Digital Placemaking
- UserVoice – online civic engagement platform
Media links about the What's Next Alexandria initiative
- City Hosts Second 'What's Next, Alexandria?' Dialogue - Old Town Alexandria Patch, January 30, 2013
- Participate: What's Next Alexandria Online Event - January 7, 2013
- 'What's Next, Alexandria?' Launches Citizen Engagement Effort - West End Patch November 16, 2012
- "What's Next Alexandria, The Dialogue Begins," Alexandria News, November 16, 2012
- 'What's Next Alexandria' Dialogue Set for Nov. 15 Old Town Patch November 9, 2012
- 'What's Next Alexandria' Survey Extended Old Town Patch October 18, 2012
- What's Next, Alexandria? (Blog Post) West End Patch October 10, 2012
- City Launches Civic Engagement Initiative - Old Town Alexandria Patch September 25, 2012
- What's Next, Alexandria? - AlexandriaNews.org September 21, 2012
- Letter to the Editor: "What's Next Alexandria Won't Heal City's Divide" Alexandria Times December 7, 2012
- Letter to the Editor: "What's Next Alexandria Dialogue – Did It Succeed?" AlexandriaNews.org, November 28, 2012
- Letter to the Editor: "With the election over, time to get involved" Alexandria Times November 20, 2012
Other links of interest
- ZoningDC.org - Twitter TownHall
Contact Katherine Carraway, Department of Planning and Zoning, 703.746.3855.