Athens-Clarke County Keeps Citizens Informed with CivicEngage Send
Athens-Clarke County, GA has a lot to offer its residents. The beautiful community is home to the idyllic University of Georgia and its over 36,000 students. It’s home to several leading manufacturing companies, two major hospitals, and a successful school district. As a result of its many opportunities and diverse offerings, is a place with a small town feel but all the amenities of a large community.
Athens and Clarke Counties unified in 1991 to form a combined city-county government serving approximately 120,000 full-time residents. According to Marc Beechuk, Athens-Clarke County Planner II and Neighborhood Notification Initiative Coordinator, it’s important to the unified County that all its residents feel informed, and that they have a voice in the decisions that impact their community.
“We are fortunate to have many citizens who are regular active members in civic dialogue, but it’s important to us that we hear from everyone. We want all our citizens to be encouraged to speak out on any topic that matters to them, even if they’re not a regular participant. Reaching and engaging these citizens is always a challenge, but our partnership with CivicPlus does allow us to do that. It’s one of the benefits for us.”
The Neighborhood Notification Initiative
A significant component of Athens-Clarke County’s engagement strategy is its Neighborhood Notification Initiative (NNI), for which Beechuk serves as the coordinator. NNI was adopted by the Mayor and Commission in May of 2005 with the goal of improving communications between the county and local neighborhoods about construction projects proposed in or adjacent to the neighborhood's boundaries.
Once an application is submitted to the Planning Department and placed on the appropriate agenda for review, a notice is emailed to people registered to receive NNI communications for the Neighborhoods, Overlay Areas and Commission Districts within which the project falls. Everyone, regardless of residency location, who is interested in staying informed about County initiatives, is encouraged to sign up for a notification based on neighborhood name, overlay name, or commission district. Individuals also have the option to sign up for all notifications, which includes the 38 neighborhoods, 10 Commission Districts, and 13 overlay areas.
The notifications include weekly administrative plan review meetings, monthly public hearings from the Planning Commission, monthly public hearings from the Hearings Board, demolition reviews, and monthly public hearings from the Historic Preservation Commission. For citizens who sign up for all notifications, they’ll receive anywhere from seven to 13 notifications per month, depending on the County’s current initiatives.
Managing all the notifications is time well spent for Beechuk, as the program has been successful in helping the County to reach its goals of engaging a wide variety of residents across its communities.
“The good thing that our notification program does is inform enough people in a neighborhood who are likely to share that information with others who may not be signed up for our notifications,” said Beechuk. “We have residents who receive our notices and share them at neighborhood meetings, or community list serves, or at PTA meetings, or via social media. I know we even have members of the media who receive our notifications. The shareable nature of the information allows us to extend our reach beyond just those citizens who have signed up. It’s a powerful thing.”
The Adoption of CivicEngage® Send
Today, Beechuk uses the CivicEngage Send communication creation and distribution solution to manage his notifications. The first NNI communications in 2005 were sent through a listserv managed by the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department. By 2007, the County was utilizing a system that allowed users to select their areas of interest and then filtered the emails so that subscribers would not receive duplicate notifications for projects that fell within multiple interest areas.
When the administration converted all its county websites to the central CivicEngage® content management system, it was important to the Planning Department to continue to allow users to manage their own subscriptions and to avoid receiving duplicate emails. Initially, the County utilized CivicEngage’s Notify Me® citizen communication subscription feature.
“We were using Notify Me to obtain subscribers and send notifications. Then we transitioned to the more robust CivicEngage Send tool,” said Beechuk. “We still have departments in our County that utilize Notify Me, and citizens can still subscribe for notifications about things like job openings, road closures, and water advisories, but for the NNI program, we use CivicEnage Send exclusively.”
An Easy-to-Use Multi-Channel Communication Tool
According to Beechuk, the CivicEngage Send platform is easy to manage, even for someone using it to create and send multiple communications per week and per month.
“CivicEngage Send is really easy to use,” said Beechuk. “And we receive good feedback from the public about their being able to interface with it too.”
The most important aspect of the easy-to-use platform, for Beechuk, is that it allows him to keep citizens quickly and easily informed.
“The biggest thing for us is the ability to get our information out,” said Beechuk. “The way it links to the different aspects of our website allows us to create communications that are very comprehensive. It’s easy, highly functional, and I enjoy using it. The functionality is simple but it’s enjoyable to play around with it.”
With CivicEngage Send’s template functionality, Beechuk can even plan ahead for his weekly, and monthly notifications.
“In December of every year, I’ll go in to the CivicEngage Send system and set up all the templates I need for the year for each month and each week. Then it’s easy to just plug in the new information.”
Beechuk’s notifications incorporate dynamic content, such as maps, and link to important features within the County’s CivicEngage website, such as calendars and agendas, allowing citizens to click for more in-depth content.
Athens-Clarke County’s notifications are sent to subscribers via email and SMS, giving citizens a choice for how they prefer to receive notifications. To date, over 1,000 citizens have signed up to receive notifications through the NNI. From there, the number of shares, social media posts, and forwards only serve to amplify each message.
“The biggest key I’ve seen is that you don’t even have to be signed up for our notifications to stay informed of important initiatives because they are so frequently shared, but it’s an important springboard.”
For more informatin on CivicEngage Send, click below to download our product fact sheet.