The City of Thousand Oaks, California, ENGAGES WITH ITS CITIZENS.

Author:Sakaida, Brent
 
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The City of Thousand Oaks, California, designed its "Your City, Your Priorities" project to build on its fiscal sustainability study. Its goals were to understand how residents prioritize city projects and services and to educate the public on the budget process. This was the city's first large-scale citizen engagement initiative, in conjunction with the budget process, outside of City Council meetings. The foundation of "Your City, Your Priorities" included research-based brand development and outreach planning, identification and implementation of a budget simulation software tool, and development of audience-specific communication strategies.

An informed and engaged community is the key to resident satisfaction. Therefore, as a top priority, the city challenges itself to weave greater engagement strategies into citywide processes. It conducts a biannual Community Attitude Survey to gauge community sentiment in several key areas, including engagement and communication. The city also employs strategies to connect with stakeholders, including the use of social media, an electronic newsletter, and online surveys.

The "Your City, Your Priorities" project used a wide range of tools amplify outreach, including:

* Informing. The city developed a dedicated web page with accessible budget information and a link to the customized budget-simulation survey tool, a homepage news features on the city website, press releases, print and online advertising, and a video public service announcement.

* Engaging. Residents participated in the budget survey using an online tool. The city posted weekly on several social media channels and hosted a series of interactive pop-up community events.

* Cultivating Budget Champions. The city distributed print and electronic information to community partners for redistribution to stakeholders and called for participation at key community meetings. A budget-specific e-newsletter was also distributed to share information.

GETTING UNDERWAY

City staff first discussed the idea of community engagement with the city council in January 2016, when a fiscal sustainability study was presented to the council. At an annual goal-setting meeting in May 2016, the council directed staff to develop a public outreach program that would ascertain the community's opinions and recommendations on citywide service priorities and, at the same time, teach residents about the city's budget process. The project was expected to help staff develop the budget and verify the extent to which residents' opinions aligned with the results of the city's biennial resident survey, first conducted in 2013.

Since the city was embarking on this type of program for the first time, staff decided to work with a knowledgeable consultant that had experience with public outreach and community engagement. The initial idea was to lay a solid foundation for this process that would allow city staff to continue with citizen engagement during future budget cycles.

The first step of the project...

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