Sustaining a Culture of Engagement - 2012 Board Retreat


The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors held a retreat on Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 6-7. The two-day meeting, at the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton, was an opportunity for the Board to consider its priorities and set a course of action for a sustainable future.

It was announced that no votes would be taken during the retreat, and some issues may be discussed again at future venues.

Supervisors Gross and Cook both requested additional time set aside for free form discussion, rather than topic-specific discussion. Chairman Bulova agreed that an open discussion would be beneficial and indicated she would keep the presentations moving along.

Day 2 - Session 3 of 3: Sustaining a Culture of Engagement

SlideShareView the presentation.

This presentation by Greg Licamele, Director of Integration and Engagement, Office of Public Affairs, addressed how Fairfax County is currently engaging with its community and outlined strategies for the future.

Director of Integration and Engagement, Office of Public Affairs, Greg Licamele

  • Engagement is included in one of the County’s vision elements.
  • Three types of engagement.
    • Issue engagement.
      • All of the ways County government seeks input through public meetings, workshops, surveys, online forms and other public participation tools.
      • Budget.
        • Community dialogues (more than 1,000 people attended).
        • Town hall meetings.
        • Online comments.
        • Social media.
        • Telephone hotline.
        • Most people weren’t upset because expectations had been managed up front about the process.
      • Land Use – Tysons.
      • 2010 Snow Summit.
        • Social voting.
        • Only hear from those who are affected.
      • Police Citizens Academy.
      • Board Task Forces/Town Hall Meetings.
        • Board, Authorities and Commissions.
        • Visioning exercises.
        • District town hall meetings.
        • Land use: special studies, colleges.
        • District budget groups.
    • Customer service engagement.
      • Many people only contact their government for services and transactions.
        • Phone.
        • Email.
        • Constituent letters.
        • Social media.
        • Website requests/services.
        • Face-to-face.
      • What are they asking? How are we responding?
      • Should better coordinate our major department call centers to ensure:
        • Common messages.
        • Best practices.
        • Trends identified that need attention.
      • CSP tracks trends now.
        • Example – food stamps.
          • Based on data received through CSP call center that there were a large number of residents calling about food stamps, we created a new landing page on the County’s website and pushed out the information proactively.
      • There are currently 893 department/program phone numbers in the online County phonebook.
      • We are enhancing 703-FAIRFAX.
        • Launching new branded effort.
        • Staff will direct you to where you need to go using the tools you want to use:
          • Phone.
          • Email.
          • Twitter.
    • Emergency engagement.
      • It is our responsibility to engage our public before, during and after emergency incidents.
        • First responders are often at an information disadvantage when they arrive on scene.
      • New emergency blog
        • During flooding event in 2011:
          • More than 51,000 page views.
          • 53 public comments.
      • Facebook and Twitter
        • During flooding event in 2011:
          • More than 335,000 post views on Facebook.
          • Posts were shared 827 times on Facebook.
          • 565 retweets on Twitter.
          • Sharing stat is most important because the information is spread virally through other social networks.
      • New PDRP process now in place.
  • Future of engagement.
    • How do we reach beyond the choir to engage more people?
    • Common barriers to issue engagement:
      • Competing responsibilities.
      • Intimidated by public speaking.
      • Intimidated by venue.
      • Inconvenient location.
      • Transportation: lack of options and gridlock.
      • Home-bound.
      • Language.
    • Should we develop a comprehensive engagement plan?
      • Fairfax County Public Schools has one.
    • Develop coordinated, common ways we engage.
      • Engagement template for departments.
      • Engagement template for BACs.
    • There is not central way to find engagement opportunities.
      • Unlike centralized resources for customer service and emergencies.
      • Want to create a centralized Engagement Portal.
        • One-stop shop for all active issues open for comment/participation.
    • Consider new tools other jurisdictions are using to manage participation.
      • Berkeley, Calif.
      • Norfolk, Va.
      • Salt Lake City, Utah.
    • Use new tools
      • Online discussions, such as Ask Fairfax.
        • Open to any Board member, department.
    • Educate and engage.
      • Online “courses”?
        • Fairfax County 101, 201, etc.
        • Land Use College.
        • Tools and Techniques to solve neighborhood issues.
        • Our environment.
        • Dissecting the Dillon Rule.
    • Mobile is a key piece of the future.
      • Smartphones outsold computers for the first time in 2011.
      • People are contacting their governments and providing comments on their mobile devices.
    • Feedback from the first day of the retreat.
      • Engage diverse communities so we’re not only hearing from the same people.
      • We make better policy when more people are involved.
      • Location of Government Center discourages participation for many.
      • Young residents and older residents are a challenge to engage.

Board Discussion on Budget Engagement

Supervisor Hyland asked if we could be reaching more residents with our budget outreach.

Susan Datta noted that the County received very positive feedback from its outreach and engagement over the past couple years. We reached more people than the numbers indicated because some organizations only sent one representative to the budget dialogue sessions, but they shared their experience with their networks as well.

County Executive Griffin suggested that one measure of success is the length of the public hearings. In the 1990s, Board meetings often lasted past midnight during the budget public hearings, but since we have started engaging residents earlier in the process, Board meetings are now several hours shorter than in the past.

Supervisor Foust noted that those stats are just the tip of the iceberg. In the Dranesville District, they receive hundreds of emails and phone calls. Information is also distributed through the schools and the PTAs.

Chairman Bulova stressed the concept of common message, many voices. By engaging the community early, many of those residents became our information ambassadors.

Supervisor Gross said it is hard to measure how many people we actually reach because we encourage people not to leave the discussion in the room, but to go out and share it with their communities instead. She also added that the search for a new County Executive has been another example of successful engagement. Responses to a survey far exceeded expectations.

Board Discussion on Public Participation and Engagement

Supervisor Cook suggested stepping back and deciding what the engagement is supposed to accomplish. The most difficult part of engagement is respecting the community’s opinion and making decisions based on their response.

Greg Licamele said that there are five levels of public participation.

  • Inform.
  • Consult.
  • Involve.
  • Collaborate.
  • Empower.

Each phase has different goals and objectives, and the key is to inform the community ahead of time which stage they will be participating in so expectations are managed.

He also explained that his personal preference to engage is online late at night. Due to family commitments and competing priorities, it is difficult to travel to a town hall meeting. But his comments online should be weighed the same as those who were able to attend the meeting.

Supervisor Cook said that philosophy may not necessarily be realistic because meaningful engagement takes time, and the value of face-to-face communications shouldn’t be underestimated. Online comments and survey groups are different than in-person discussions.

County Executive Griffin suggested that there is not a right way or a perfect way. There are a variety of ways to engage and it’s going to vary depending on what the issue is. It is ok if each district does it different – staff should be flexible.

Deputy County Executive David Molchany explained that when you ask a global question, you get trends as a response. At the local level, it is much more targeted. A resident may take a survey, but that may be the catalyst to become more involved later on in the process. Some people are going to want to be more involved than others.

Chairman Bulova was complimentary about the County’s emergency engagement efforts. Information is readily available on the website and through mobile applications. Residents can easily sign up for emergency alerts.

Supervisor Foust asked if the County has the technology in place to host town hall meetings by telephone. David Molchany answered that it is not currently available, but he would explore the cost and feasibility.

Supervisor Smyth noted that all of these things are tools that each Board member can keep in their toolbox. Each of these tools has to be customized to serve the diverse populations. We have to look at many types of media to communicate effectively. Another effective strategy is to identify community events that are already scheduled and explore how to participate since there is a built-in audience. Ultimately technology is wonderful, but people still want to reach out and touch us. The personal connection is still the best way.

Supervisor Hudgins emphasized that we need to focus on engaging diverse communities so we’re not hearing from the same people. It’s a communication piece and it’s cultural. We haven’t gotten there yet.

Supervisor Gross said it is important to respect the cultural backgrounds of the residents when communicating with them. She offered an example from the Mason District where the Health Department successfully worked with the Korean restaurant community on the proper way to prepare food.

County Executive Griffin pointed out that 80% of the businesses in the County have 50 employees or less. It is a real challenge to reach that sector of the business community. The real message is to use all of our tools and be creative with how we communicate with our residents and businesses.

Chairman Bulova suggested that there is another type of engagement beyond issues, customer service and emergencies – social and recreational engagement. When residents from all ethnical backgrounds attend a concert in a park, they are participating in important community building.

Board of Supervisors Retreat 2012

  Day 1

  Day 2

  Presentations & Related Media



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