The city is using this chart to determine the engagement level of each project. Photo courtesy of city of Issaquah

The city is using this chart to determine the engagement level of each project. Photo courtesy of city of Issaquah

City to use new toolkit for public engagement

City of Issaquah projects requiring public engagement will be following a new, standard formula, after a decision by the Issaquah City Council at the March 20 meeting.

Autumn Monahan, assistant to the city administrator, presented the proposal for a public engagement toolkit to the council, which would define a specific process for gaining, processing and using public input.

Monahan had previously shown the toolkit to the Council Services and Safety Committee at its March 14 meeting.

“We’re all using the same language so we have shared expectations … so when we come back to you, you understand the process we went through,” Monahan told the council.

The city’s communications team researched successful community-resident engagement programs throughout the United States and designed the toolkit based on these award-winning programs.

The city outlined five steps to engagement in the toolkit, including to:

-Assess the readiness to engage with the community on a project.

-Determine engagement level (collaboration, consultation and/or informing).

-Identify stakeholders.

-Select the right tools (such as focus groups, open meetings and social media).

-Report and evaluate.

There are three different levels to choose from when determining the level of engagement for a project, Monahan explained — collaboration, consultation and informing. A project may use one or all three of these levels, depending upon what decisions are being made.

Collaboration allows community members to create and design projects through tools such as focus groups. Monahan said that collaboration typically happens at the beginning of a project and has been used for projects such as the Central Issaquah Plan, Walk n’ Roll, and the Aging Plan.

Consultation happens when the city has a base plan to show to residents but seeks their feedback through open meetings such as open houses and workshops. This happens either after the collaboration step or if a project requires expertise from professionals like architects.

Informing is simply telling the public about a decision that has already been made, such as informing the community about road closures.

Engagement is most needed when City Council is making a decision, Monahan explained, and usually least needed when city staff are the primary decision-makers.

“How do we know what success looks like?” Council President Stacy Goodman asked.

Monahan explained that success for city staff would be when “they feel like they aren’t re-inventing the wheel every time they start a project.”

“This is really an advantage when we sit down with project managers at the start of a project that we can pull this out,” she said.

“Just having this structure is very much appreciated … It affects us, it affects the citizens dramatically as well,” Councilmember Paul Winterstein said. “I’m glad to see this established as a baseline, we have something now where we can assess whether something went well or not. I like that this establishes that.”

Councilmember Mariah Bettise explained that at the previous Services and Safety meeting, the committee had decided that having both a comprehensive submission of data and a simpler recap might be helpful.

“It’s great to have this toolkit together and to see all of this,” Bettise said.

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