When Envision Bend, formerly known as Bend 2030, recently went before the Bend City Council to ask for money, it got probing questions from councilors about its plan for public outreach.
Envision Bend, a nonprofit, wants to help develop a community vision for Bend, as it did before. Councilors wanted to know how it would ensure there would be sufficient outreach so it would be a vision of the community. Not a vision of the Envision Bend board or partners. Not a vision of the public already engaged in local politics. But a vision that encompassed all of the city, including homeless people, people of color and people whose first language is not English.
Councilors did approve giving Envision Bend $50,000 conditioned on seeing a plan for that outreach.
Laura Fritz, Envision Bend’s executive director, did not have all the answers about outreach. That’s in part because her organization is looking for funding to get the process started — to hire a consultant to help develop the plan. And she said it wouldn’t be a fixed plan. It would only be smart to have a plan that adapts and learns better ways to ensure it is gathering community input from across all the community.
Frankly, that’s about the best answer she could give. When it comes to cracking the code of community involvement and ensuring you find a truly representative sampling of what the community thinks and wants, you never know.
When the Deschutes Public Library board announced it was going to follow through on its plans to take the bond money approved by voters and build a large, central library on the north end of Bend, some people were upset. Some wanted a more decentralized vision for the library or a central library located in the middle of Bend. Others just simply had not heard about the district’s plans. That’s despite that the district developed its plans over 6 years. It held many meetings that included some 6,000 community members in one way or another. And still many people hadn’t heard that’s what the library had planned.
Bend city government has tried different things to increase community involvement. It ramped up its social media. It paid a consultant to help teach neighborhood associations how to get more involved. It tried office hours with a couple councilors available to meet with the public. It formed public committees with broad membership to talk about priorities for water/sewer and roads. Councilors meet with neighborhood associations, other groups and individuals. There are emails, phone calls. And what do councilors and city officials hear? They do get some praise for their outreach. They are also told they are not listening.
Now government meetings are more accessible than ever. You can watch and listen to them on your phone. There’s reporting in The Bulletin and in other local outlets. And we’d still be surprised if many families settle in for an evening of rapt attention to reviewing what local governments did today. There are usually just more important or more entertaining things to do.
Pollsters will tell you that if you want to understand how people feel about a topic, the old-fashioned phone survey of dialing random people cannot work so well anymore. Many people are sick of getting unsolicited calls, text messages and emails. Pollsters have taken to recruiting diverse groups of people and focus groups and actually compensating individuals for taking the time to give their responses.
We don’t doubt the commitment of Envision Bend to trying to help the whole community discover its vision for Bend’s future. Councilors, though, were right to be so demanding, so insistent on seeing a plan before handing money over. The city and Envision Bend don’t want to be in a position when the vision document is produced with people just not believing it is legitimate.