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BRIGHT SPOTS IN COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT with support from


OVERVIEW: Some U.S. communities are building greater civic participation from the bottom up. Analysis of 14 U.S. Cities and deeper case studies of four reveal successes and challenges in creating community bright spots.

Photo credit: Knight Foundation


KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM SCANS OF 14 CITIES: • The best examples change policy and unite diverse groups • The more segments of the community you involve the greater the benefits • New tools, especially tech tools, are key to drawing in a range of citizens • Sustained engagement translates into economic gains • Biggest challenges: scaling and sustaining best practice

Photo credit: flickr.com/alexknowshtml


These bright spots have started movements to foster attachment, expand information access and motivate people to play a larger role in their communities.

• Philadelphia, PA • St. Paul, MN • Austin, TX

• • • •

Boston, MA Charlotte, NC Chicago, IL Hampton, VA

• • • •

Richmond, VA Hartford, CT Macon, GA Decatur, GA

• San Jose, CA • Akron, OH • Detroit, MI


LESSON #1

Engage people around community challenges and problem-solving Detroit: Kiva Detroit is focused on economic development in low-income neighborhoods.

Photo credit: Detroit Kiva


LESSON #2

Plan programs to involve a broad spectrum of people, including the hard-to-reach. Chicago: The city’s 49th ward engaged a broad and diverse audience in policy decisions related to participatory budgeting.

Photo credit: flickr.com/ GroundworkCDS


LESSON #3

Use new tools and strategies that tap into the power of technology. Philadelphia: Embarked on an open data initiative by engaging a civically minded tech community to help city development efforts. Photo credit: flickr.com/Kara La Fleur


LESSON #4

Focus on sustainable efforts that use a range of strategies. Austin: Imagine Austin defines a vision and framework for all residents to grow and develop the city using in-person and online tools and strategies.

Photo credit: flickr.com/austintexasgov


SUMMING UP: KEY TOOLS AND TACTICS FOR BUILDING BRIGHT SPOTS • Use open data to engage residents and improve lives • Unite different sectors (i.e. government and tech) for innovative problem solving • Use city visioning and strategic planning as a traditional but useful way to engage lots of people – for a short time • Employ participatory budgeting to engage communities • Equip people to participate toward sustainability, i.e. developing leadership or parenting skills Photo credit: Crossroads Charlotte


SUMMING UP: WAYS TO TACKLE CHALLENGES • Achieving scale: create strong networks to reshape institutions and systems. • Reconciling community divisions: mix available tools (including tech) to chart new paths • Responding to change: develop built-in plans for adapting and implementing initiatives beyond leadership transitions

Photo credit: Knight Foundation


BRIGHT SPOTS IN COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT with support from

nlc.org | @leagueofcities Photo credit: flickr.com/DetroitWorksLongTerm

knightfoundation.org | @knightfdn

Bright Spots Report  

National League of Cities and Knight Foundation report published April 29, 2013

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