As director of community engagement in the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods and Community Engagement (ONCE), I work with a small team to improve the quality of life in Nashville’s neighborhoods through a more informed, active, and involved citizenry and enhanced governmental response to community needs. We work to provide information and support to communities, and to increase community inclusion in the initiatives led by the Mayor. I am always looking for new ways to reach out to others that should be involved, but for some reason are not, whether it is writing social media posts, sending out newsletters, or the classic community meeting.
The most significant initiative that I am involved in is the city’s transit plan, called “Let’s Move Nashville.” On May 1, Nashvillians have the opportunity to vote on the plan. Until that date, Mayor’s Office staff and other Metro employees will be meeting with groups to present the plan, its benefits, funding, and what will (or won’t) happen after the vote.
Working on a project this large has its challenges. There are a number of consultants involved – PR, engineers, and the like – and a lot of moving parts. My current role is one of matchmaker: identifying the tools that will meet the needs of the group to which we are communicating. The engagement focus during this phase is attending community meetings and providing information in a way that connects with each group. I pay special attention to the location of the neighborhood and any particular issues or concerns of the neighbors, and try to choose a speaker that I know will be comfortable with the topics.
There are many challenges to communicating the plan to the community; I feel it is important to use all the tools available to reach the community “where they are.” It is important to know that not everyone obtains information in the same manner, and one role I play during this process is to help identify those tools and the messaging that needs to be in place. I work closely with our social media manager and others who work on constituent response to identify issues and figure out ways to provide the information needed.
Mayor Barry often says that government can’t do everything; it is important to cultivate private-public partnerships. I work with nonprofit organizations to connect to other organizations and the larger community to cultivate partnerships that will help fulfill the mission of ONCE. Other things I am working on:
- Identifying neighborhood organizations and their leadership, so that we can be a better resource to these groups. Neighborhood organizations are encouraged to complete a form on Nashville.gov so that we know who you are and what you may need.
- Spreading the word on our constituent response structure, hubNashville. This is a great tool that helps the community interact with metro departments, that is available online as well as dialing 311.
- Creating a structure for engaging more people as volunteers to help with Mayor’s Office projects in the community. The project began as a Public Investment Plan presentation last year and is a partnership between the Mayor’s Office, Hands On Nashville, Metro Public Works, among others. Public Investment Planning is an innovative approach to budgeting, launched in 2016, that challenges Metro departments and agencies to think creatively about how they can collaborate on pilot initiatives to better serve Nashville-Davidson County residents.
- Working with two more teams on Public Investment Plans for 2019.
- Working with Metro Procurement to engage with small and minority businesses to inform about opportunities to work with Metro departments, and to increase the pool of qualified businesses that can do work with Metro; and
- Collaborating with the Urban League of Middle Tennessee’s Young Professionals to increase the pool of candidates of color for the many Metro boards and commissions.
This job is definitely challenging, but very rewarding.