Beyond the Walls August 3, 2012

By Kimberly Sims

Not so long ago, governmental agencies were often the last to adopt creative and innovative techniques to engage their audiences.  The trusty public meeting and the stagnant website were the main tools used to gather input on vital issues.  But as many municipalities look to create meaningful, inclusive and transparent ways to engage the public, they are getting out of the council chambers and creating conversations via social media and other online tools. Two cities are successfully rewriting the rules of engagement and getting it right.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price has set a new standard when it comes to getting out and meeting her constituents.  She has literally taken the traditional town hall meeting on the road. The Tour de Fort Worth series is a way for those living and working in the City to connect with the Mayor and share ideas (and burn a few calories).   This is in stark contrast to meetings held in recreation centers and council chambers that run the risk of limiting the conversation.  This marriage of community and conversation has gone a long way in helping Mayor Price build trust in all corners of the community.

According to an online survey conducted by LexisNexis Risk Solutions, four out of five law enforcement officers use social media to help solve crimes and the City of Arlington has taken this to a new level by hosting Tweet Alongs.  Tweet Alongs allow Arlington Police Department’s (APD) Twitter followers to virtually experience a day in the life of a police officer. Because of its innovative use of social media, the department was recently honored by the Center for Digital Government with its 2012 Best of Texas Award.

In a recent article in the University of Texas at Arlington’s Shorthorn, Assistant Chief of Police James Hawthorne says the Tweet Alongs are “allowing the department to increase citizen involvement in public safety and crime prevention efforts and has played (sic) an important role in helping the agency achieve its goal of reducing crime in the city.”

In addition to a Twitter account, the APD has an active Facebook profile and YouTube channel.  Citizens are able to ask questions, receive information on upcoming events and crime alerts, and learn about the department’s activities in the community through these outlets. Take a look at the infographic below to see the different ways law enforcement is using social media.

Looking beyond the four walls of traditional community outreach and engagement is a simple and cost effective way to reach your audiences, build trust and implement meaningful and sustainable change. It gives those who cannot make a meeting or are uncomfortable with speaking in group settings an opportunity to insert their voice into the conversation.

Check out the client highlights section in this month’s Ink It Orange to see how we are helping our clients give voice to their stakeholders through public engagement strategies.




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