This project is a finalist for the 2021 Golden GOVIT Awards in the Service category. This project was completed by the City of Bloomington and nominated by Amy Cheney. 

In 2019, the City’s Community Outreach and Engagement division (COED) began to research ways to expand engagement opportunities for residents. They convened a working group of 14 Bloomington staff members to research and evaluate various options. This helped the team to understand that a digital public participation tool would be used frequently for a variety of purposes. These included: information sharing, gathering suggestions/brainstorming from community members, map-based community input, online forums, story gathering or personal narrative, surveys, Q&A, frequently asked questions, and polls.

The team selected the technology called EngagementHQ in order to meet the following goals:
• Accessibility for people with disabilities and language differences.
• Digital engagement would be one of many engagement tools used in addition to face-to-face engagement.
• The solution would ensure a consistent look and have all information in one location providing transparency, depth of information and feedback opportunities.
• The City would be inclusive in the rollout to ensure it works for the public.
• The solution would be easy for staff to use and intersect seamlessly with the City’s website and social media.

COED staff was responsible for implementing EngagementHQ. They worked with the Information Technology department to procure the tool and Communications division to brand the tool as Let’s Talk Bloomington, promote it with internal departments, and train staff on the use of the tool. Let’s Talk Bloomington has been used frequently and has proven to be a welcomed way for the community to interact with the City.

Since the platform has been in place for the City of Bloomington, the following has been realized:
• 37 projects to date (20 active, 14 archived, 3 to be published soon)
• 23,297 duplicated site visits
• 631 unduplicated registered participants
• Hundreds to thousands of unregistered unduplicated participants participating in project engagement
• Google translation integration and integration of language specific information and surveys on specific projects
Some examples of specific outcomes directly impacted by public participation on Let’s Talk Bloomington include the following:
o Curbside Organics Recycling (1011 responses) –the responses showed overwhelming support for a new curbside organics recycling program. In addition, the information learned will be used to tailor education pieces on the new program.
o Sustainable Bulky Item Disposal Plan (1419 responses) – the text analyst tool in Let’s Talk Bloomington was used for open ended questions. The trends shown in the text analyst directly impacted the final proposal presented to the City Council.
o Hyland Greens – Three Rivers Park District Golf Partnership (1048 response) the sentiment among respondents was overwhelmingly positive, with most either specifically in favor of a partnership and the prospect of the golf course resuming operations in 2021, regardless of management.

In each of these examples, digital engagement occurred during the pandemic and allowed for the public to weigh in on matters that impacted them most. Having access to digital technology solutions, customized for the City of Bloomington, during a time when in-person engagement was limited by the pandemic, allowed the City to continue to be transparent, engaging and focused on equity.