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City of Monrovia – Budget Education and Outreach Story

Case Story

Community: City of Monrovia (Los Angeles County)
Population: 36,955

Summary

In October 2012, the City of Monrovia, CA embarked on an ambitious effort to develop the city’s Strategic Plan. The goal of “Plan Monrovia” was to align City services with its budget and resources and guide the preparation of the 2013-2015 city budget and set the city’s course for next five years. The adoption of the Monrovia Strategic Plan was preceded by development of work programs, with the tasks and timeframes required to achieve major city goals, which were incorporated into the adopted strategic plan. This was followed by the creation of a 2013-2015 city budget that allocated the resources necessary to achieve Strategic Plan goals.

Program Highlights

  • The city used an array of community outreach and engagement strategies including: general publicity, community group outreach, utility billing insert, social media outreach and engagement, community services commission input, commission/board workshops and two community workshops.
  • The city was able to identify the top six community priorities: economic development, environmental stewardship, historic preservation, infrastructure and facility maintenance, long term fiscal responsibility and public safety.
  • Survey respondents generally rated the Monrovia community and city services very highly.
  • Hundreds of people participated in the outreach.

Lessons Learned

  • Engaging the community in articulating priorities provides meaningful guidance for setting local government goals and the subsequent allocation of resources; it can become the basis for reaching a consensus for action among elected officials.
  • Creating multiple public engagement venues (such as in person workshops held on different days, hours and locations, online tools such as “Mind Mixer” and mail surveys) allows a greater number of residents to participate in the way they find most appealing.
  • Developing a robust public engagement effort can create a large number of community suggestions that need to be sorted and processed. This could represent a significant amount of work for city council and/or staff.
  • Providing a wide-reaching community outreach program, including opportunities for more than “the usual suspects,” builds public trust in the local government, making the achievement of goals more likely.

More to the Story

The City of Monrovia has an extremely impressive history of successful redevelopment and renewal, and was an “All American City” award winner in 1995. While this history of accomplishment was a very good thing, it led to a belief among residents and city leaders that Monrovia could do just about anything (and everything!). However, this belief was shattered by the Great Recession when a new era of limits and focus became essential.

Therefore, in October 2012, the City of Monrovia embarked on an ambitious effort to develop its first strategic plan.  The goal of “Plan Monrovia” was to align city services with its budget and resources, guide the preparation of the 2013-2015 city budget and set the city’s course for next five years. This was the city’s first comprehensive city-wide plan with stakeholders from across Monrovia – including residents, business owners, service club members, neighborhood leaders, city employees and students  – each asked to weigh in to help shape the future of the community.

While the Council held the ultimate responsibility for setting the goals and  for allocating the necessary resources to accomplish them, community outreach and engagement was considered an essential component in setting the city’s course and making budget decisions for the next five years.

MIT-9

The city created the Monrovia Idea Team (MIT-9), soliciting participants from mid-level staff across all departments. MIT-9 created the “Plan Monrovia” theme and accompanying catch-phrases and graphics. After training programs by consultants, the MIT members were responsible for presenting the process to community groups (“the road show”), facilitating small group discussions at the public workshops and reviewing the results. MIT-9 members also interacted with their colleagues which not only stimulated creativity and commitment of the MIT-9 itself, but also fostered a sense of “ownership” of the process among wider city staff.

Community Outreach and Engagement Strategies

The first step in the process was Council approval of a comprehensive plan for the strategic planning process in October 2012. The City’s Community Services Commission assisted staff in developing the final general publicity, community group outreach and social media strategies. Outreach strategies included:

  • General publicity including distribution of posters and hand-outs through city offices, stores and other public places; news releases and other materials shared with conventional media outlets; and outreach through the City Manager’s weekly report and the “Monrovia Today Newsletter.”
  • Outreach to community groups brought the MIT-9 staff to community organizations throughout the city in order to present the strategic plan process and the reasons behind it, and encourage public participation in surveys and workshops designed to gather community ideas and feedback. More than 6,100 community members participated.
  • A utility billing insert mailer explained the strategic planning process, advertised community workshops and directly asked for ideas about plan priorities. The city received more than 180 responses.
  • Social media outreach and engagement activities were designed to encourage the public’s contributions to strategic plan priorities.  In addition to the usual social media methods, including an interactive link on the city’s website, special social media tools (Mind-Mixer and Textizen) were also used.

The unifying approach in each of these engagement strategies was to ask participants: what are the most important things for the City to focus on over the next five years?

Community Workshops

In addition to the above, two community workshops were held (in December 2012 and January 2013) that allowed residents to contribute their ideas for the city’s future and set priorities among these ideas. Two different venues, days and times were planned for the community workshops to encourage the participation of residents from throughout the community.

The process for both meetings included opening remarks by the Mayor and City Manager followed by a brief staff presentation on the purpose and process of the strategic planning process and the workshops.  It was stressed that the goal setting and strategic planning process were the start of the city’s budget process, not the end. It was also explained that the community workshops were important, but just one of the many inputs to be considered by the Council.

Participants were then randomly assigned to small groups (to encourage a diversity of interests in each group) and asked to develop their group’s list of priorities they believed the city should focus on for the next five years. After each group developed its list of potential priorities, individual participants were asked to vote for up to five items on the list that would be their highest priority. Each small group then reported its priority items to the larger group.  All small groups were facilitated by city staff, including members of MIT-9 who were deeply involved in the workshop process.

Staff and consultants consolidated the lists of highest priority items from the various groups into a “master” list of candidate items. All workshop participants were then asked to “vote” on this “master list” by affixing adhesive dots to the five items they thought were the highest priority.

While Council members attended these workshops, their role was to actively listen and process the input in preparation for their own goal setting workshop that would follow. No Council discussion or action was taken at the workshops. More than 140 community members participated in these workshops.

Commissioner’s Workshop

An additional strategy brought all members of the city’s six commissions and boards to a facilitated workshop to solicit their ideas about community priorities. Twenty commission and board members attended this workshop.

Employee Workshop

To understand the cities present and ongoing efforts related to planning, MIT-9 performed an environmental scan which was an analysis and evaluation of internal conditions, as well as current projects and programs. As part of this analysis, staff held a series of workshops aimed at receiving input from employees. More than 120 city employees participated. This generated a list  that represented a full picture of the current environment including the city’s responsibilities, goals and accomplishments.

Council Study Session and Workshops

Council Study Session
In January 2013, a Council study session was held to review: 1) the results of community outreach and engagement; 2) an environmental scan involving the status of current plans, projects, programs and services; and 3) the fiscal outlook.

Goal Setting Workshop
Drawing on the ideas received from hundreds of residents through workshops, surveys, social media and other online venues, as well as from input by city employees, the Council took up the work of Strategic Plan goal setting at a February workshop.Initially, through a Council-approved approach, each individual Council member (in writing) proposed their top seven priorities for the next five years. These were submitted prior to the workshop itself. These priorities were then compiled, by theme, into a composite listing that included suggested wording for consolidated goal statements where similar ideas had been proposed. Copies were distributed at the Goal Setting Workshop and the Council then collectively reviewed the consolidated summary of goals to ensure clarity, completeness and understanding.

The Council then worked through their respective proposals and reached consensus via a structured ranking process. Consultants and city staff reviewed the meeting process and distributed prepared materials at a Council meeting held in the previous month. Council members relied on the community input received through various settings as well as through their own individual experiences, knowledge and judgment.

Concluding Steps

The adoption of the Plan Monrovia Strategic Plan in May 2013 incorporated tasks and timeframes required to achieve major city goals. This was followed by the creation of a 2013-2015 city budget that allocated the resources necessary to achieve Strategic Plan goals.

Acknowledgement

‘This story was created in cooperation with the HSM Team – Ken Hampian, Bill Statler and Mike Multari.They share decades of successful leadership experience in local government and community non-profit organizations, ranging from San Luis Obispo to volunteer service helping the troubled City of Bell reform their government. Collectively, they have worked for scores of agencies throughout California as staff and consultants.

The HSM Team continues to be deeply engaged in local government affairs as college teachers, authors, consultants and trainers. Their expertise includes community goal-setting, citizen engagement, team-building, organizational development, ethics and financial management.

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