After a presentation by University of Oregon students in Eugene, Redmond city staffers may consider jumping on a movement pioneered by cities much larger in size: mobile apps that allow residents to become more involved in local government.
But more than that, city staff were reminded Thursday by UO students in the Sustainable City Year Program, there are a multitude of ways to connect with residents — online and off.
“One of the things that was actually insightful was they said one of the reasons you might not have engagement with a city is if you have people who are content; They might not be seeking out involvement in government,” Keith Witcosky, Redmond city manager, said Friday.
Using mobile platforms such as apps, where it becomes easier for residents to access city staff, could be a good first step. The idea of cities launching apps has become more popular in recent years, with the likes of Boston and Los Angeles offering a mobile way for residents to comment on city ordinances or even report potholes in the street.
Witcosky said it’s too soon to say whether Redmond will get a similar app, but he’s definitely interested in the idea.
With the app company some of the students looked into, the startup cost would be about $3,400, Witcosky said.
City Councilor Anne Graham said she’s not yet convinced an app would be a good choice for Redmond, but she was excited to hear other ideas students had to offer.
“I think it needs more research,” Graham said, adding, “I think they have a valid point that our communications are aimed at older people.”
The average age in Redmond, Witcosky said, is about 33. As the UO students with the Sustainable City Year Program explained Thursday, for people that age and younger, Facebook use is on the decline. Other social media, such as Twitter and especially Instagram, are more effective for those audiences.
But for when Facebook is used, students pointed out short videos or posts with images are more effective than text-only status updates. Graham took the tips to heart right away.
“I actually put up on my Facebook page my first video,” Graham said.
Aside from listing ways to communicate with residents online, the students suggested creative ways for city staff and councilors to connect with residents in person, too.
“It has to be the right blend of interpersonal strategies and digital strategies,” Dave Remund, an assistant professor of public relations at UO, said. Remund teaches the public relations class that presented ideas to Redmond officials.
He explained that his students brainstormed traditional communication techniques that would involve getting city councilors out among the public. When his students suggested ideas such as holding a City Council meeting at one of the high schools, or setting up a booth at the farmers market during the summer, Remund was pleased.
“That’s so simple yet brilliant,” Remund said.
Remund added his students kept in mind Redmond’s population size — just under 28,000 according to U.S. Census Bureau data from July 2014. Creating events in which city officials and staff are face to face with residents would be reasonable in a town of that size.
Witcosky said he appreciated the students’ suggestions for Redmond officials: “Make the city less of an ivory tower and make it more personal and more approachable,” he said.
Although Witcosky is still unsure whether the city will take on an app, he would like to see some of the smaller ideas come to fruition soon.
“One of my biggest takeaways overall is don’t be satisfied with what you’ve got right now and don’t get complacent,” Witcosky said on getting the community engaged. “(The students have) given us a number of different ideas that were usable.”
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