Hampton, Virginia and “I Value” Campaign By Ryan Henderson
BEST PRACTICE IN P2 – Hampton, Virginia and “I Value” Campaign
By Ryan Henderson
Receiving the All-America City Award in Denver
Back in mid-June I had the privilege of being part of the City of Fort Lauderdale’s All-America City Delegation. The All-America City Award is given annually to communities that demonstrate innovation, inclusiveness, and civic engagement. We traveled out to Denver “to compete” with 25 other cities across the nation vying for the coveted selection as an All-America City. Ten cities out of the 25 were awarded the distinction (Fort Lauderdale was one of them).
I’ve described to family and friends that the All-America City Awards is sort-of-like a civic beauty pageant, as every city that traveled out to Denver was more than deserving of the award and could’ve easily been named in the top ten. Every city that participated was worthy. That was the fun of attending the All-America City Awards, the chance to see all of the great work being done in communities throughout the country and the pride each and every delegation member had in the community they were representing. However, one city in particular caught my eye and I was happy to see them win based on an innovative initiative that illustrates the effectiveness of public participation.
Hampton, Virginia, located in the southeast part of the Commonwealth and with a population of 137, 436, was named a 2014 All-America City. One of the projects that the City of Hampton submitted in their award application, and a project that undoubtedly helped them secure the All-America City title, was their annual “I Value” initiative that solicits public input and involvement for their city budgets.
The “I Value” campaign combines some of the best traditional citizen-outreach practices, such as in-person community meetings, with social media tools like online chats and electronic polling. The “I Value” campaign is an invitation to citizens to tell the city what they want and what they value. Informal chats of small groups of 10-15 are held at coffee shops and libraries. Larger meetings are held with professional organizations, local civic organizations, and neighborhood associations (Alliance for Innovation, 2011).
“In an ordinary budget cycle, Hampton’s City Council public hearings might draw a few dozen citizens. The combination of venues and outreach techniques expanded participation to several hundred. We went out to people at their places of comfort,” said City Manager Mary Bunting. “And we tried to be smart about where we should go” (Alliance for Innovation, 2011).
In conjunction with holding meetings throughout the community, the City of Hampton created a website “I Value Hampton” which provides information to citizens on the various methods they could utilize to provide input on the budget (email, Facebook, Twitter and comment drop boxes located around the city). Citizens also have the opportunity to have scheduled online chats with Bunting at various times throughout the day. This opportunity has allowed citizens the ability to pose specific questions on budget issues and receive detailed answers. The chats are then archived on the website for other citizens to review.
“At the end of the day, a budget is a reflection of community values – if you do it right. It’s what the community wants to invest in,” said Bunting (Alliance for Innovation, 2011).
That’s a key point by Bunting. If you want to know what a city cares about, then look at the budget to see where it puts the funds. What Hampton has done is make “the city” more than the council, the city manager, and the budget office. Hampton’s made “the city” mean its citizens and community.
All citizens care to a degree on where there tax money goes, but when you start getting into the budget process, many check-out. Citizens aren’t just intimidated by the process but, perhaps more accurately, they’re unsure of their place in the process. Hampton realized that and did something innovative to address it. They made the budget process accessible and welcoming for their citizens. “I wanted [the public] to understand the complexity of the budget and trade-offs,” said Bunting.
This is critical to receiving thoughtful participation. The budget process isn’t simple and it’s even harder sometimes to explain why certain programs/initiatives get funded and why others don’t. “I Value” not only helps citizens navigate the process but it also allows them to have a real voice in what they want funded. If, at the end-of-the-day, some programs don’t get funded, citizens will have had the opportunity to understand why through the “I Value” campaign.
“I Value” benefits everyone. When I was a graduate student I had a budget professor who asked us to develop and analyze a method of bringing equity into the budget process. The exercise was to make us think of ways for every citizen of the community to have an equal chance to participate. “I Value” makes the budget process equitable. The approach of bringing the budget process to its citizens, in every part of the city, creates a budget that has equal ownership amongst all its citizens. Hampton has placed a premium on public participation. Doing so with one of the most complicated and complex of city tasks is not only commendable, but as Hampton has proved, effective.
“All of us – myself, my staff, the City Council, the larger community – felt that this outreach process puts us all in a better place for understanding and making important decision,” Bunting said. “That’s a healthy thing for our community” (Dunning, 2013).
For more information on the City of Hampton’s “I Value” campaign visit http://www.hampton.gov/ivalue.
Alliance for Innovation (2011) Hampton’s “I Value” Campaign Turned Budget Woes into Civic Engagement Wows. Retrieved 2014.
Dunning, P. (2013). Successful Collaboration in the City of Hampton, Virginia Budgetary Process. Retrieved 2014.