Member Spotlight: Traci Ethridge
Traci Ethridge, Assistant Director of Corporate Communications & Marketing for the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, first learned about IAP2 from colleagues who had attended the IAP2 Foundations in Public Participation program. “I was part of a working group tasked with examining how the city was engaging with the community and developing an overall strategy moving forward. We wanted to make sure that we were bridging the gap between the community and local government. Our organization has success around a lot of projects and initiatives and we wanted to implement a standard practice such as the IAP2 Spectrum.” The Spectrum will become the foundation to community engagement planning and a key piece in shaping the city’s overall strategy.
The City of Charlotte was one of the first municipalities to take advantage of the IAP2 USA Government Membership program when it was introduced in January 2015. “We definitely saw it as an investment in the direction we were moving and wanted to make IAP2 resources accessible throughout our organization. As we continue to engage the community in initiatives like the Community Investment Plan, we recognize that various projects can be in different places on the Spectrum. The important thing is that the community engagement plans begin with a high level overview of the Spectrum and the understanding that we are connecting with the community throughout the life cycle of the project.”
Beginning in the fall of 2014, the city conducted a series of community meetings to begin planning efforts for the Cross Charlotte Trail (XCLT). “The team decided to organize pop-up meetings to engage with the community and this method proved to be very successful. They attended neighborhood meetings, participated in weekly bike rides and connected with people at local festivals and events at locations along the proposed trail route.” This spring the trail project was awarded the Region of Excellence Award by the Centralina Council of Governments.
For the City of Charlotte, community engagement isn’t just about planning capital improvement projects. It’s about reaching people, listening and even tackling tough, sensitive issues impacting the community. The work being done by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) is a great example. An initiative called Cops & Barbers provided a forum for open, honest dialogue on police and race relations in the African American community. It is an opportunity to meet people where they are and where they routinely go (the barber shop) and start a conversation between officers and people of all ages in the community. Last year, CMPD partnered with the North Carolina Local Barbershop Association to coordinate town hall meetings throughout Charlotte. The program was recognized by the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing. A simple, yet impactful idea turned into a form of community engagement that brings diverse groups together.
“It is exciting to see the connection grow between our organization and the community we serve. We have a unique opportunity to effectively engage with our community through many platforms and cover a variety of topics that matter to those who live, work and play in our city. I look forward to seeking out ways to incorporate more of the IAP2 Spectrum into all aspects of our engagement.”
Traci volunteered to serve on the IAP2 USA Communications Committee in 2016, and has gotten involved in the organization’s communications planning initiative. “IAP2 USA is committed to helping organizations figure out where they are on the Spectrum and helping them be successful with their community engagement initiatives. I’ve learned so much from other committee members and from members in other cities who are trying new things and engaging in different ways. IAP2 USA is a perfect fit for what we’re doing here at the City of Charlotte.”
And she’s excited about bringing community engagement to the next level at the city. “There are people who do some form of community engagement in every department. Whether it’s employees out in the field, project managers, city leaders or elected officials, there is interaction with the public on a daily basis. As an organization, we want to engage, build relationships and actively collaborate with the community.”
Traci is hoping to reconvene the working group to look at embedding P2 in the city’s overall strategy for planning and delivering city services. “We’re seeing the positive impacts when we listen to what matters to the community and bring back what we’ve learned. Now I want to look more holistically at how we put all of the pieces together to establish community engagement at the core of everything we do.”
Traci recognizes the city can’t use a one-size-fits-all approach, but is asking questions around “What does engagement look like from an overall standpoint? Are we hitting the target to engage effectively? Are we being intentional about looking for ways to engage the community?” While these questions will be answered over time, she sees the IAP2 Spectrum as the foundation to build a lasting strategy for engagement.