Driving public engagement in the Bay Area

Drive Public Engagement in the Bay Area

Located in Northern California, The Bay Area is home to some of the world’s finest wine country and beautiful landscapes. However, in the age of information, most of the attention has been focused on the tech-savvy southern end of the Bay known as the Silicon Valley, where companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook, Apple and others have changed life and how we communicate, forever. 

Under the pressure of Covid-19 threatening to catalyze the collapse of the social fabric of our country, and without federal leadership, private and public organizations have partnered together to discover, build, and distribute innovations to help solve pressing issues threatening communities both in the Bay Area and across the country. Two of these focus areas are civic engagement and digital transformation. Without support and research, the domino effect of failure in these areas would be unfortunate at best. 

The founders, researchers, and data scientists behind co:census are aware of this tremendous opportunity and have begun to collaborate with local leaders and officials to help drive public engagement.

Prioritizing civic engagement in the middle of a pandemic means that government agencies and institutions must find new digital means of engagement.

Quick Stats: Public Engagement in the Bay

    • A 2014 study identified five key types of voting rights violations in California: 
      • disenfranchisement of currently and formerly incarcerated people
      • voter suppression and intimidation (particularly in predominantly Latinx communities)
      • language access barriers
      • disability access barriers
      • vote dilution in at-large elections, which prevents historically marginalized communities from electing candidates of their choice or influencing the outcome of an election
    • Declining levels of civic engagement could further aggravate one of the most serious societal problems facing the state today—economic inequality between the “haves” and “have nots.” 
  • Voter turnout in the Nine-County Bay Area was 80 percent in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, but only 50 percent in the midterm election of 2014.
  • 80 of the Bay Area’s 101 Cities Have No Black Leaders Among Their Top Elected Officials
  • Asian and Pacific Islanders and Latinx people continue to be sorely underrepresented among local electeds, especially at the county level. Latinx and APIs make up half of the region’s population but are just 13 percent of top county-level elected officials.
  • San Francisco’s 2018 elections were the most expensive ever, driven by Super PACs raising and spending money in secret.

Public Engagement with co:census

Prioritizing civic engagement in the middle of a pandemic means that government agencies and institutions must find new digital means of engagement. Back in March, we briefly analyzed whether governments were prepared to actively be a part of the digital transformation. Since then, we have seen a tremendous increase in governments utilizing digital tools for public hearing meetings and getting public feedback. This is no different in the Bay Area –where co:census began saw it’s first surge of interest from customers.

This pandemic is certainly a before-and-after moment in the history of the economy and the digital transformation. We’re witnessing the forced acceleration of trends that are likely to shape the future and we see text message surveys as a key trend and opportunity to collaborate on public engagement. Two key agencies co:census worked with this summer were the City of Oakland’s Office for Public Works and the San Francisco County Transportation Authority

>>City of Oakland- Capital Improvement Program

Every other year, the City of Oakland seeks public input for their Capital Improvement Program (CIP) where budget is allocated for specific infrastructure investments based on community needs. The priority of investments for this initiative is based on feedback from residents of Oakland –and this year there was a focus on ensuring there is sufficient input from residents of the East Bay. 

The City of Oakland prioritized engagement that could allow them to have access to the insights of residents across the Bay, in English and Spanish. By choosing co:census as one of their public engagement tools, they were able to communicate via SMS to get feedback from residents via text which meant they were able to reach residents who did not have broadband access at home. 

As noted on the City of Oakland’s website, “Capital projects improve and maintain Oakland’s public facilities and infrastructure. They can range from restoring aging public buildings, to improving streets and sidewalks, to creating or improving our parks”. While this engagement process is still active we look forward to seeing the results of the Capital Improvement Program. 

>>SFCTA - Congestion Pricing Study

When the global pandemic hit, the San Francisco Transportation County Authority (SFCTA) had to rewrite the outreach strategy for its Downtown Congestion Pricing Study to be one that was socially distanced. Partnering with co:census on SMS texting presented the opportunity to connect with people with low digital access in a socially-distanced way.  This study began in 2019 with an omnichannel outreach plan to engage the public through focus groups, conversations, surveys, and presentations in order to:

  • Get traffic moving so people and goods get where they need to go 
  • Increase safety for people walking, biking, and driving 
  • Clean the air to support public health and fight climate change
  • Advance equity by improving health and transportation for disadvantaged communities

As noted in SFCTA’s San Francisco Downtown Congestion Pricing Study Goals and Evaluation Metrics:

“Although San Francisco’s record levels of congestion have now vanished due to the global pandemic, in the past the city’s economy has been resilient. The future beyond this pandemic is uncertain, but without intervention we expect a rebounding economy to bring the return of congestion and its negative impacts. The pandemic is spurring cities to envision the future they want to see. Congestion pricing would not be implemented during a pandemic or recession but we can plan today for a return to economic vibrancy without congestion.”

Learning more about text message surveys

Text message or SMS (Short Message Service) surveys are administered through SMS texts. SMS surveys and texts are becoming increasingly popular in businesses because text messages are opened and read almost 138% more than email  90% of all text messages are read within 3 minutes of being received.

This proves that an SMS survey is a clear winner over email surveys when gathering public feedback. Learn more about SMS surveys here. Interested in engaging the public through text message surveys? 

Schedule some time with Team co:census