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Citizen Involvement in Mecklenburg County



Background: As part of its 2008-2010 Strategic Business Plan, the Mecklenburg Board of
County Commissioners directed that a study be conducted to develop recommended goals,
strategies, performance measures and accountabilities to support the Boards vision for citizen
involvement in community governance.







Although the Boards vision has been reflected through its Community & Corporate Scorecard
(see box below), there is no defined business strategy and no accountabilities for achieving the
desired result other than having various advisory committees appointed by the Board.










Having citizen advisory committees remains important, but there are many other equally and/or
more effective methods of enhancing citizen involvement. Based on available (and somewhat
limited) performance measures, the level of citizen satisfaction with opportunities to provide
input is below acceptable performance standards (red light) for the last two years, the only
years that citizen satisfaction in this area has been measured.

Study Findings: Funded by private grants with in-kind support from Mecklenburg County, a
study conducted by The Lee Institute identified several findings regarding citizen involvement
in Mecklenburg County. A summary of the key findings are below (detailed findings are
provided in Attachment 1):
The primary relationship between government and residents is that of service
vendor/customer. The strong dynamic of this relationship inhibits the much needed
relationship of residents as owners of the community and government as the agent
of the owners
Many people dont believe their involvement will affect change
Mecklenburg Countys current approach to citizen involvement is insufficient to
achieve the Boards vision because involvement options are limited and inconvenient
Citizen involvement begins with public awareness
People want to be involved and engaged in their community and government but need
help doing so
People generally define their community as their neighborhood, so citizen involvement
activities must included targeted efforts at the neighborhood level


Board Vision: We will have a local government that is highly efficient,
effective, accountable, and inclusive. Partnerships between government, the
private sector, the faith community and others will bring together people from
diverse backgrounds to address and solve community problems.


Community & Corporate Scorecard Link:
Desired Result: Enhance Citizen Involvement
Corporate Strategy: Seek citizen participation in policy development and
decision-making
Measures:
Advisory Committee Diversity
Citizen Satisfaction with Input Opportunities


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A Vision for Engaging Residents
Based on the review of current thinking and scholarship on citizen engagement, along with
considering the key findings from the study, a four-part continuum of engagement is being
utilized to organize and provide structure to the proposed business strategy and implementation
plan. The concepts of these four increasingly connected levels beginning with Informing and
Consulting, and concluding with Collaborating and Empowering are further described in the
plan in Attachment D.

Although Mecklenburg County has made a significant investment in engaging residents
through Informing and Consulting (which will be continued and strengthened in this business
plan), there has been a limited focus on and an investment in the more intensive levels of
engagement of Collaborating and Empowering. However, citizen engagement through
Collaboration and Empowerment provides the greatest potential for Mecklenburg County to
help residents improve their lives and their community. These aspects of citizen engagement
also create a two-way relationship between residents and government that is necessary to build
and sustain effective governance within the community. This is a stronger partnership than the
prevalent one-way relationship where residents primarily serve as customer of the vendor
governments services. Although this customer-vendor relationship remains important, it is
only one aspect of the multi-faceted partnership that should exist between local government
and its residents.

Consequently, this business strategy and plan for citizen engagement called MeckConnect --
creates a comprehensive systems approach to increase the quantity and enhance the quality of
engagement along all four parts of the citizen engagement continuum.

MeckConnect

MeckConnect Mission: To build and sustain effective participation of Mecklenburg County
residents in the governance of their community.

Core Principles: These principles will guide all Mecklenburg County citizen
involvement/community engagement efforts.
Mecklenburg residents are owners of the community
Mecklenburg residents have a right and responsibility to participate in the governance
of the community, and are willing and able to do so
Comprehensive citizen engagement results in better governance of the community
Residents from all areas and representing all facets of life in Mecklenburg County
must have ample opportunity and access to participate in the governance of the
community
Mecklenburg residents have the right to choose how to participate in the governance of
the community
Mecklenburg County government has a responsibility to foster, encourage and enable
citizen engagement by offering multiple, convenient ways to participate through the use
of technology and in person (high tech and high touch).
Citizen involvement is a learned value that requires ongoing efforts for sustainability
In general, Mecklenburg residents consider the community as their neighborhood.
The impact of increased citizen involvement and its benefits can and will be measured



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Desired Results:
Mecklenburg residents consider themselves owners of the community
Mecklenburg residents believe citizen engagement is their right and responsibility
Mecklenburg residents are satisfied with the variety, ease and quality of citizen
engagement opportunities
Mecklenburg residents are satisfied that their participation in citizen engagement efforts
made a meaningful impact on the community.
Mecklenburg residents participate in citizen engagement opportunities
Mecklenburg residents actively vote in elections

Business Strategies: MeckConnect will employ the following business strategies to achieve
the desired results identified above. Below this list of business strategies are supporting key
tactics, tools and primary accountabilities for each strategy.

1. Diverse, Network-Based Recruitment
2. Involve Residents Numerous Ways
3. Institutionalize and Sustain Citizen Involvement/Community Engagement
4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Key Tactics, Tools and Accountabilities:

1. Diverse, Network-Based Recruitment

Key Tactics:
Recruit residents by working with existing community groups, other civic networks,
organizations and through current government efforts to connect people with each
other and with local government
Create methods to involve demographically balanced groups of residents reflective
of the impacted community

Tools: Recruitment must be focused, intensive and ongoing. Tools will include
extending ongoing, broad invitations to encourage participation. Particular () emphasis
will be made to recruit participants a one-on-one basis and other targeted methods such
as letters, flyers and outreach to existing community groups (e.g., books clubs, faith-
based organizations, senior clubs, etc.)

Accountability: This is a shared accountability for all leadership (e.g., Board,
executives, department directors) and staff. A key accountability for the Citizen
Involvement Coordinator (see Strategy 3) is monitoring involvement outreach methods
and providing consultation on best practices to generate diverse involvement.

2. Involve Residents Numerous Ways

Key Tactics:
Use the Public Involvement Spectrum of the International Association of Public
Participation (see I nform-Consult-Engage-Collaborate-Empower boxes below) to
design and provide multiple forms of citizen involvement opportunities that range
from high-tech to high-touch
Develop and Sustain Citizen Volunteer Program (see Collaboratebelow).
Develop Neighborhood-based Councils (see Collaborate below).

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Tools: Ongoing communications plan, including targeted and mass communication
(web sites, direct mail, TV/video production, PSAs, news releases, speakers bureau,
neighborhood meetings, social e-media).

Accountability: Public Service & Information Department (PSI) has primary
accountability for developing information content and delivery systems, in
consultation with Managers Office and department leaders.






Tools: Implement multiple methods of consulting with residents and others,
tailoring the method to include high-tech and high-touch activities, such as
community surveys, department/agency surveys, focus groups, workshops, study
circles, neighborhood and public meetings, online polling, social e-media.
Accountability: There is a shared accountability at executive and department
levels to implement as appropriate throughout the organization and community.
Key elements (e.g., community survey) will have specific accountability for
implementation (e.g., Office of Strategic Organizational Improvement has the
primary accountability for developing, implementing and reporting on community
survey). PSI also has accountability in developing content and delivery of
information as part of this strategy.







Tools: Developing and sustaining volunteering. Having residents volunteer to
help support and/or deliver County services requires considerable planning prior to
implementing (see Attachment A for details).

Tools: These tactics include ongoing activities that enable proactive identification
of community issues, concerns, problems and solutions, as well as establishing
short-term initiatives that are issue-specific. Tools include standing citizen
advisory committees, facilitated consensus-building meetings, citizen task teams,
participatory decision-making, multi-stakeholder negotiation, neighborhood-
based citizen councils. The neighborhood-based citizen council tactic is an
important feature that requires considerable planning prior to implementing (see
Attachment B for details).

Accountability: This is a shared accountability at executive and department levels
to implement as appropriate throughout the organization and community.
I nform: Provide Mecklenburg residents with balanced and objective information
to assist them in understanding the issues, policy, problems, alternatives and
solutions regarding the community and its governance.
Consult: Create opportunities for Mecklenburg residents to supply decision
makers with feedback and analysis on issues, policy, problems, alternatives and
solutions regarding the community and its governance.
Collaborate: Create opportunities to partner with Mecklenburg residents that
enable residents to be directly involved in the delivery of County services as well
as being involved in each aspect of community governance, such as developing
alternatives and solutions for consideration by decision makers.
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Additional accountability will fall to the Citizen Involvement Coordinator (see
below) in developing these methods with the participation of executive leadership
and department directors and other staff.





Tools: Initially, the tactics for the Empower strategy include the primary existing
method of decision making by residents voting. However, other communities
have used other methods such as citizen juries (outside the criminal justice/legal
system) and delegated decisions to address community problems. These methods
should be explored and considered on a case-by-case basis. Other tactics and tools
include facilitated consensus-busing meetings or participatory decision-making
meetings enabling neighborhood-based citizen councils and/or neighborhood
organizations making decisions about neighborhood goals and priorities.

Accountability: The Mecklenburg County Elections Office is accountability for
open elections, consistent with North Carolina law. Accountability for additional
methods for resident decisions making will vary depending on the circumstances
and method developed/implemented. Likely this will involve shared accountability
at the Board and/or executive levels. It also may involve accountability at the
department director level and with the Citizen Involvement Coordinator.

3. Institutionalize and Sustain Citizen Involvement/Community Engagement

Key Tactics:

Establish the Mecklenburg Way of citizen engagement/community engagement,
including oversight/accountability and management structure to support the
business strategies.




















Empower: Create opportunities for Mecklenburg residents to make final
decisions in community governance matters.
Structure and Management

Executive Oversight: The Scorecard desired result of Enhanced Citizen
Involvement is contained in the Boards Effective & Efficient Government
(EEG) Focus Area. As a result, this desired result is part of the accountability
of the Effective & Efficient Government Focus Area Leadership Team (EEG
FALT), with direct leadership and accountability assigned to a General
Manager. Additional executive oversight is provided by the Countys Executive
Team (County Manager and General Managers).

Management/Operational Oversight: Consistent with many EEG goals,
management and operational accountability is shared by all department/agency
directors. This includes coordinating and providing support of advisory
committees and other citizen engagement outreach activities. In addition,
specific management/operational responsibilities include the following:

The Public Service & I nformation Department (PSI) is accountable for
developing information content and content delivery systems, as well as
managing these content delivery systems. These services will support
department/agency citizen engagement activities, as well as citizen engagement
coordination provided within the County Managers Office (see below).
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Establish Citizen Involvement Coordinator function.























Citizen Involvement Coordinator Key Responsibilities:
Champion citizen involvement and engagement throughout the organization
Oversee development of neighborhood-based councils
Oversee development and implementation of Volunteer Services Program,
including a volunteer worker policy for the County
In partnership with PS&I, plan and coordinate special events to raise awareness
of and recruit residents for citizen engagement opportunities, with a focus on
developing diverse involvement (i.e., representative of the community)
Develop citizen involvement performance measures and targets
Liaison with PS&I citizen involvement/outreach to monitor outreach
communications and provide consultation on best practices
Develop and leverage new and existing partnerships and alliances with other
organizations to build an institutional community engagement network.
Implement methods of collecting and analyzing performance data to determine
the effectiveness of citizen involvement strategies

Establish citizen involvement/community engagement processes that are
appropriate, widely known and followed consistently throughout the organization
(see Process Model below).

Citizen I nvolvement Coordinator: Although many elements of citizen
engagement will be implemented at the department/agency level, there is a
need for coordination of these efforts to ensure follow-through and consistency
with (for implementing) Mecklenburg Countys citizen engagement principles,
strategies, tactics and accountabilities. In addition, there is a significant need
to champion the organizations citizen engagement efforts as a priority, and to
coordinate the development of the organizations capacity to foster, convene
and facilitate citizen engagement. Another responsibility of the citizen
engagement coordinator will be to develop partnerships and alliances with
community organizations (see below).

In addition, two major initiatives volunteering and neighborhood-based
citizen councils -- will require the dedicated attention and resources of the
citizen engagement coordinator. If resources permit, the citizen engagement
coordinator will be a full-time position and responsibility. Given the strategic
nature of these responsibilities and the need to coordinate across all
departments/agencies, this position should be within the County Managers
Office, with a strong affiliation with PSI.
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Identify
project or
activity
Consult with
Citizen
Engagement
Coordinator
Identify key stakeholders
who need to be involved Plan to meet
minimum
legislative
requirements
Identify tools and
methods for the
engagement
If no consultation
or engagement is
warranted, it is
recommended
that a record of
this decision be
made
Assess level of
engagement needed
Evaluate success against
measures in the business
plan
Develop community
engagement plan
Implement the plan
Assess
potential
community
impact of the
project or
activity
Consult with
Citizen
Engagement
Coordinator as
needed
Step 1
Step 2
Step 3
Step 5
Step 4
Step 7
Step 6
Step 8
Step 9
Step 11
Step 10
Step 12
Step 13
YES
NO
No potential
impact
Some potential
impact
The Citizen Involvement/Community Engagement Process Model
Adapted from the Minneapolis, MN
Community Engagement Process Model Guidebook












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Develop and leverage new and existing partnerships and alliances with other
organizations to build an institutional community engagement network.




















Establish performance measures and targets, and implement methods of collecting
and analyzing performance data to determine the effectiveness of the strategies
above.

Tools: Satisfaction and awareness surveys of those who participated in engagement
activities as well as the overall community will be the primary tactic used in
gathering data to measure performance against desired results and specific
performance targets. Data on participation levels and voter turnout will be collected
and/or reported by SOI based on availability of data from other sources (e.g.,
participation rosters, Board of Elections Office).

Accountability: The Office of Strategic Organizational Improvement (SOI) will
develop survey tools and oversee any community-wide surveys. Surveys of
participants in specific engagement activities will be the accountability of those
charged with managing these activities (see Structure and Management below),
with consultation by SOI staff.

4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Key Tactics:

Implement multiple methods of mass and targeted communicating and consulting
with residents and others, tailoring the method to include high-tech and high-touch
activities. This includes communicating via the web technology (e.g., web pages,
Facebook, Twitter, blogs), news media relations (news stories, PSAs), print
materials (brochures, direct mail), advertising, and in person (speakers bureau,
neighborhood/community meetings, focus groups, study circles, community surveys
and more.

Partnerships & Alliances
MeckConnect began as a partnership between Mecklenburg County and
The Lee Institute, with grant funding provided by Foundation for the
Carolinas, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, and The John S. and James L.
Knight Foundation. Ideally, these partnerships will be sustained in some
matter (e.g., funding, data sharing, etc.). In addition, there are
opportunities for partnerships and alliances between Mecklenburg
County and the following organizations and others:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee
Center for Civic Leadership (Foundation For the Carolinas)
Community Building Initiative
City of Charlotte and other Mecklenburg municipalities
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Mecklenburg Ministries and other faith community organizations
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission
Neighborhood Associations
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Summary
Some elements of MeckConnect begin in early January, 2010. This includes leveraging,
strengthening and expanding existing practices and resources to inform and consult with
Mecklenburg residents. For example, on January 6, 2010, the County Manager began meeting
with various groups throughout the community to discuss the same type of information he is
providing the Board regarding the current state of and outlook for the community. In addition,
these meetings offer an opportunity for the County Manager and County staff to hear directly
from residents about what is going on in their lives and neighborhoods and to learn what they
consider important, as well as to find out how residents want to be more involved in local
government and their community.

Consistent with the MeckConnect findings, these meeting are being coordinated by the
Countys Public Service & Information Department (PSI) -- in partnership with all County
departments -- to occur where people are already gathering (i.e., intact groups), such as
neighborhood association meetings, advisory committee meetings, civic clubs, as a few
examples. In addition, PSI staff is using electronic social media and other means of
communicating with residents to inform them of the meetings, what was discussed (high-
tech/high touch), and to solicit additional meeting opportunities.

Still, full implementation of this plan requires Mecklenburg County to enhance the
collaborative form of citizen engagement in more substantive ways. This involves
implementing two major new initiatives (Develop & Sustain Volunteering; and Establishing &
Sustaining Neighborhood-based Citizen Councils). A first step in this effort will be
designating a Citizen Involvement Coordinator to assume accountability for the day-to-day
implementation of the key elements of this plan.

A critical component is the support of the Board of County Commissioners and senior
management of the County. The elected body must support citizen engagement and the
resources needed to develop and sustain engagement at all levels (inform, consult, collaborate
& empower). The first step in this support is approving changes to the Boards Community &
Corporate Scorecard to add the desired outcomes and strategies proposed in this document.
Furthermore, the Board would need to support the County Manager in assigning accountability
and resources to this effort.
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Attachment A: Unified Volunteer Services

Developing and Sustaining Volunteering

A MeckConnect Strategy

Background

The primary purpose of MeckConnect is to enhance citizen involvement in a variety of ways
and levels of intensity with Mecklenburg County government and within the community.

One of the key strategies of MeckConnect is to involve residents in numerous ways with
Mecklenburg County government and other aspects of the community. This strategy includes
developing and sustaining volunteering as an important way to involve residents. Currently,
Mecklenburg County has limited resources involved in recruiting and managing volunteering
(primarily in the Park and Recreation Department and the Department of Social Services). In
fact, Mecklenburg County does not have a unified or coordinated approach to developing and
sustaining volunteering throughout the organization. Such an approach would build on the
successful ways volunteering has been accomplished within the organization and expand it to
apply to all areas of Mecklenburg County government.

It is important to recognize that recruiting and managing volunteers is a significant task that
requires specific expertise and uses best practices. When managed well, volunteering can be a
positive asset and experience for both the organization and the volunteers. However, if it not
managed properly, volunteering can do more harm than good, again for both the organization
and/or the volunteers. As a result, developing and sustaining volunteering as a key element of
MeckConnect requires and thoughtful and coordinated approach that leverages expertise in
recruiting and managing volunteers and uses proved practices that enable successful volunteer
programs.

The County benefits from volunteer involvement by:
Extending the Countys ability to provide services effectively and efficiently.
Enhancing residents knowledge and understanding of County governments
responsibilities, services and results
Building, expanding and strengthening the relationship Mecklenburg County has with its
residents
Accessing the expertise of residents and receiving input and feedback from residents on
County services and operations
Connecting residents with each other in activities that help improve their lives and the
community

Benefits to volunteers include:
The opportunity to develop skills and gain experience
An increased understanding of County government and the opportunity to influence its
effectiveness
Personal ownership and satisfaction in helping the community
Meeting and building relationships with other residents
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Establishing Unified Volunteer Services

It is estimated that only two in five volunteers become involved in volunteering at their own
volition. Therefore, most people volunteer because they have been asked (recruited) to
volunteer. In addition, most successful volunteer programs in large organizations achieve this
success through a unified approach. This unified approach includes coordinated volunteer
drives and awareness efforts. It also includes a coordinated clearinghouse for all volunteer
opportunities within the organization. This clearinghouse is vital because it provides one
clearly defined access point for people to volunteer and be placed in volunteer opportunities
that suit their interests and abilities to effectively support the needs of the organization. Not
only does this provide consistency in recruiting and managing volunteers, it also enables more
efficient and effective partnerships and coordination with volunteer programs outside of the
organization (e.g., Red Cross).

Below is the mission and desired results of Mecklenburg Countys Unified Volunteer Services:

Mission:
To enable Mecklenburg County residents to be involved in the delivery of County services and
addressing community needs.

Desired Results:
Mecklenburg residents are satisfied with volunteer opportunities provided by Mecklenburg
County government
Mecklenburg residents are satisfied that their participation in Mecklenburg County
volunteer activities has made a meaningful impact on the community.
The size of Mecklenburg Countys volunteer force is comparable or better than other
government and/or non-profit organizations (adjusted for population, etc.).

Structure, Resources and Action Steps:
The next steps necessary to establish unified volunteer services involve the following:
Defining the structure and resources required for these services to be
implemented
Conducting an initial assessment of current volunteer opportunities throughout
the county
Creating a leadership team within County staff to support a unified,
comprehensive approach to volunteer Involvement.

It is proposed that the Citizen Involvement Coordinator function established to oversee
implementation of the MeckConnect Plan be charged with defining and recommending the
appropriate structure, resources and action steps to establish unified volunteer services
consistent with the background, mission and desired results articulated above. This charge
would be one of the priority responsibilities for the Citizen Involvement Coordinator.



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Attachment B: Neighborhood-Based Councils

Neighborhood-Based Councils

A MeckConnect Strategy

Background
Creating an active program of Neighborhood-Based Councils is a long-term, comprehensive
strategy to directly engage the residents of Mecklenburg County in the governance of their
county. The establishment of Neighborhood-Based Councils is grounded in the following core
principles of MeckConnect:
Mecklenburg residents are owners of the community
Mecklenburg residents have a right and responsibility to participate in the governance
of their community, and are willing and able to do so
Residents from all areas and aspects of Mecklenburg County must have ample
opportunity and access to participate in the governance of the community
Citizen involvement is a learned value that requires ongoing cultivation efforts for
sustainability
In general, Mecklenburg residents consider the community as their neighborhood


Proposed General Structure
Currently, Mecklenburg County is composed of a large number of distinct neighborhoods,
often formed around Homeowners Associations. The City of Charlotte works closely with
neighborhoods through its existing services: Department of Neighborhoods, the Neighborhood
Watch Program of CMPD and the Park and Recreation neighborhood-based advisory councils.
The proposed main goal of the newly recommended Neighborhood-Based Councils is NOT to
create a new structure but to build on and extend existing structures to provide enhanced
opportunities for people to be engaged with Mecklenburg County at their neighborhood level.

Neighborhood-Based Councils would have four primary responsibilities:
Pro-actively identify areas of focus for collaborative efforts by government and
residents
Problem solve with a wide variety of County departments on specific neighborhood
issues, concerns and problems
Provide input to County staff and Board of County Commissioners on key policy issues
identified by the County including establishing funding and community priorities
Encourage increased ownership for neighborhood issues, ultimately strengthening
community bonds and relationships
Serve as a pre-existing resource for the County to involve in the case of an emergency
whether that emergency is a neighborhood specific one or broader county-wide issue
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Neighborhood-Based Councils would have the following structure:
Existing homeowner associations could also function as the neighborhood council
New neighborhood councils could comprise 5 -8 members recruited through open
enrollment and with open involvement
The Citizen Involvement Coordinator of the County acts as a liaison among the City
Council and County Commission elected officials and staff, including department heads
and the public at large
Councils meet a minimum of three times a year for a structured discussion on key
public policy issues i.e. input on budget priorities along with input on perhaps two
key issues identified by Mecklenburg County Commissioners
Information is sent on a regular basis from the Citizen Involvement Coordinator and or
the Public Information office to members of Neighborhood-Based Councils concerning
key issues. A regular process of connection and communication using the
MeckConnect principle of combining high-tech with high-touch approaches
Neighborhood-Based Councils are empowered to access a wide-variety of County staff
resources including the option to request County staff meet with the Councils regarding
specific issues

Identified Challenges
Identifying members to serve on councils who are not simply the usual suspects
Ensuring that the Board of County Commissioners and County staff are committed to
involving Council members in the design and delivery of County services and in the
governance of the community
Nurturing the development of Councils while helping to maintain their independence
and self-reliance
Developing and implementing a multi-faceted ongoing communication and outreach
strategy

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Attachment C: MeckConnect Summary Report


MeckConnect Study Summary Report

Overview
The first phase of MeckConnect was a pilot project to test ways to increase citizen engagement
in their local government, by focusing on the relationship between residents and Mecklenburg
County government. Local governments have the most direct impact on their citizens. The
trend in emphasizing customer services and efficiency in government has influenced the often
one-dimensional customer/service vendor relationship between residents and county
government. Media such as television and internet have made it possible for citizens to be
informed without any direct involvement in the agencies by which they are governed and
served. Local governments are missing out by not engaging the talents and intellect of
members of the community, who are over shadowed by single-issue advocates and special
interest groups.
The first phase of MeckConnect was conducted through a partnership between The Lee
Institute and Mecklenburg County government with funding the Z Smith Reynolds Foundation,
The Foundation for the Carolinas and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Process
Beginning in June, 2007, a discovery and research phase was launched, including convening a
strong design committee to consider appropriate civic engagement strategies. During this
research and discussion phase, the effort shifted from a traditional top-down, problem-centered
approach to a more grassroots, investigative one. Originally, the idea was to explore three
different areas of the County and to use geography as the lens for creating the civic
engagement strategies. In an effort to take full advantage of a true research and development
phase, a change was made to keep geography constant and recruit people more through the lens
of engagement and connection. After the design team completed its work, a planning team
(consisting of Lee Institute staff and County Staff) met regularly. In a community like
Charlotte-Mecklenburg where there is great civic investment and participation, could a
connection be discovered to that successful tradition to help County government increase
participation with its citizens? A process was designed to gather this data beginning in
December of 2007. Discussion groups were held between February 2008 and May 2008.

Target Audience
The MeckConnect pilot sought to involve groups of people already engaged in the community
who would represent diverse communities and constituencies. Most of the pilots engagement
efforts focused on a census tract east of Charlotte. A key development that emerged from
MeckConnect Planning Team meetings was the importance of focusing on individuals who
were already engaged in their community.




There were four types of groups identified.
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1. A Very Engaged Group: a pre-existing group that is already engaged in work with local
government. Will be identified through County and City departments. (Examples:
Citizens advisory panels, neighborhood organizations)
2. A Group that is engaged in working towards the public/common good but not with
government. (Example: religious groups)
3. A Group that is engaged with each other but not directed towards public good.
(Example: book clubs)
4. A Virtual Group consisting of individuals primarily connected through blogs, message
boards or other online communities. (Example: Charlotte Mommies)
The MeckConnect Planning Team researched and conceptualized models for citizen
engagement and strategies for field-based data gathering. Then, a set of discussion groups
were organized and facilitated. The facilitation model was similar to that of a focus group;
dialogue was encouraged around a small set of questions during a 60-90 minute meeting. The
qualitative data from the focus groups were analyzed using an axial coding process. As is true
with all focus groups, it is important to remember that the qualitative data cannot be
extrapolated to quantitative outcomes. For example, it is not accurate to make quantitative
assumptions concerning the types of people who participated in the focus groups.
In order to collect a set of quantitative data, paper surveys were administered to discussion
group participants. Questions were developed based on Susan Jakes Community Assets
Survey.
Results from the MeckConnect Community Assets Questionnaire were analyzed at the
conclusion of the discussion groups. Highlights include:
Respondents reported feeling more able to affect change and work collaboratively for
the greater good within their immediate neighborhood. Average responses to the
question, I know I can make a difference in my community were consistently higher
on the neighborhood level as compared to the community of Mecklenburg County as a
whole.
Neighborhood leaders seem more accessible to and cooperative with - their
constituents. However, respondents, on average, reported a greater lack of strong
leadership at the neighborhood level than the county level.
Responses to the question, I know how to work with others to solve problems
consistently scored higher with neighborhood communities than the County
community. These responses seem to support the discussion groups theme that there is
a lack of understanding about ways individuals can engage with, and affect change in,
local government.
MeckConnect also precipitated the creation of MecklenBlog, a blog that was used in
conjunction with this pilot and is being considered by County staff as an ongoing aspect of its
two-way communication with residents (and anyone accessing the County web site).
Anecdotal data indicates that this has been helpful in increasing feelings of ownership of
government and signifies the Countys support of participatory governance.
A discrete set of resources and information both local and national- have been identified
which will be of specific help as Mecklenburg County considers the continuation of this civic
engagement plan. In addition, these resources will help inform other civic engagement efforts.

What Did People Say?
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Being involved and engaged in the community is a widely held value for many different types
of people who invest their time in many different types of groups. However, the importance of
being involved and committed for most people relates to their efforts in the civic, i.e. volunteer,
arena. Few people identified engagement as it relates to their connection to local government.
In addition, when asked specifically about citizenship, few participants connected a view of
being a good citizen with direct participation and relationship to government. Many discussion
group participants, in fact, reported a lack of understanding of ways to get involved with
government.
For most respondents, community equated to their neighborhood or where they lived. This is
significant when designing a future scaled-up approach that the strategies may need to be
focused at that micro-level. This also impacts on the selection of locations for civic
engagement. Many people identified the fact that government often asks people to come to
them in order to be engaged (i.e., come to a public meeting) as a barrier.
Because there is such a focus and commitment to the civic arena for people who are engaged,
the active civic institutions are potential partners.
Participants were clear that becoming more connected to government would have to relate to a
high possibility/probability for demonstrated change. People who are engaged expect for their
investment to have a real impact.

Overview of Findings
1. Current Approach to Engaging Citizens with County Government is Insufficient
Vending Machine relationship (i.e. residents put-in their tax dollars and receive
services)
Involvement and engagement options are limited and inconvenient
People dont believe their involvement will affect change
Engagement is organized at macro-level

2. Community = Neighborhood
People consider their neighborhood as their community
People seek involvement at this level, except with local government
Community involvement is personal (e.g., helping my neighbors and my
neighborhood)
People often get involved because someone asks
County government not seen as connecting at neighborhood level

3. Involvement and engagement Begins with Awareness
People need more than information to understand the potential impact on them
People often unaware of how to engage with local government (and/or dont like
the options)
Too often, outreach is through news media and other mass communication
People use technology as means to gather information and to connect in person

4. To Be Engaged, People Want:
To be asked to participate
Multiple, convenient ways to engage
Safe, convenient place to gather
To connect with people in person on something meaningful
To believe their involvement will affect change they can witness
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Local government to bring people together

MeckConnect Phase I Conclusions
In reviewing the findings from the MeckConnect study, several key conclusions can be found
which have implications for the future citizen engagement work in Mecklenburg County and in
other government municipalities:
Citizen engagement is a learned value that must be practiced; therefore, it is
important for government to actively embrace the concept as an important value
inherent in all the work that is done
In order to truly engage citizens, a more comprehensive and intensive approach is
needed
Engagement efforts should be focused at neighborhood level
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Local government can leverage partnerships to enhance citizen involvement

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Attachment D: Citizen Engagement Continuum

Citizen Engagement Continuum

Range of Involvement for Citizens in MeckConnect


Level of
Involvement
Definition Strategies, Techniques
Inform
Provide Mecklenburg residents
with balanced and objective
information to assist them in
understanding the issues, policy,
problems, alternatives and
solutions regarding the community
and its governance
Ongoing communications plan with targeted and mass
communication using:
web sites
direct mail
TV/video production
PSAs
news releases
speakers bureau
neighborhood meetings
social e-media
Consult
Create opportunities for
Mecklenburg residents to supply
decision makers with feedback
and analysis on issues, policy,
problems, alternatives and
solutions regarding the community
and its governance
Implement multiple methods of consulting with residents
and others, tailoring the method to include high-tech and
high-touch activities, such as:
community surveys
department/agency surveys focus groups
neighborhood and public meetings
online polling
social e-media
Collaborate

Create opportunities to partner
with Mecklenburg residents that
enable residents to be directly
involved in the delivery of County
services as well as being involved
in each aspect of community
governance, such as developing
alternatives and solutions for
consideration by decision makers
Techniques include:
Developing and Sustaining Volunteering
Neighborhood-based Councils
Empower
Create opportunities for
Mecklenburg residents to make
final decisions in community
governance matters
Techniques include:
Voting
citizen juries (outside the criminal justice/legal
system)
delegated decisions to address community
problems