The Importance of True Engagement

On any civic project, whether it’s to develop a comprehensive plan, redesign an area, or define a cohesive identity like with this project, public input is perhaps the singular most important factor. Engagement with the public provides the direction, buy-in and feedback the project needs to be a long-term success. Too often, though, public engagement is seen as merely a box to check rather than an integral part of the process.

What engagement looks like in many instances is this: one or two public meetings that only a handful of people (who don’t have to worry about work or other obligations) attend, a survey that is distributed in only one way, and that’s about it. There is an effort to engage with the public, but not in a way that is comprehensive or equitable. Not every demographic is reached, and so the input provided can be skewed based on one set of opinions.

That’s why we make every effort to engage with every demographic in the community. We don’t want the outcome of the Downtown Garland Branding Project to be swayed because we only met with certain types of people. The end result of the project needs to be something that is truly representative of the entire community, because that will result in greater ownership of and pride in the identity, which means the work will last longer and have a greater impact.

We put a lot of effort into identifying the different demographic groups and subgroups we need to reach as part of our process — like families, young entrepreneurs, community nonprofits, minority groups, religious groups, etc. — and specifically what people within those groups we can speak to that can act as champions for us among their peers. We look at the ways different groups like to engage, whether that is through public meetings, online surveys, roundtables, on digital platforms, at events, or in any number of other methods. It is about meeting people where they are at, rather than expect them to come to us. Doing this allows us to achieve rich, meaningful, equitable engagement that enables us to uncover Downtown’s true identity and bring it to life.

We operate under the philosophy outlined in this famous Jane Jacobs quote: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

Another core tenet of this in-depth engagement process is doing far more listening than speaking ourselves. We will gather hours and hours of input before we ever design anything, ever work on any messaging deliverable, or ever talk about implementation. Our job is to uncover Downtown Garland’s unique identity, and we can’t do that without listening first, acting second.

So as you see us around downtown, speak to us at a pop up engagement event, or read project updates online, please know that we need and welcome your feedback. If at any point there is a group you feel like we are not reaching, tell us so we can take action. If there are specific individuals you know we should speak to, pass us their contact information. We want the outcome of this project to be something that everyone can feel proud of.

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