9 Ways to Get Public Input: Thinking Beyond the Survey

By Ben Miller

North Fork Valley Heart & Soul Coasters
As part of the Community Heart & Soul project in North Folk Valley, Colorado, patrons of a local microbrewery wrote what they loved or what they would leave about their town. Image courtesy Orton Family Foundation

We are always amazed by the creative ways Community Heart & Soul® towns gather input from residents. In the process they not only get quality feedback, they also create opportunities for residents to engage with one another and build community. Here are nine examples we find especially compelling and fun!

1. Block party with a story booth

  • Golden Vision 2030, a Community Heart & Soul project, held a block party that drew more than 1,000 Golden, Colorado residents to have fun and discuss the future of the town. A pop up tent at the party was designated as a place where residents could tell stories and share what they love about Golden, and what they would change. This was a great way to receive public input while also enjoying a BBQ, drinks, and prizes.

Man signing papers

2. Window graffiti in prominent public places for all to see

  • Writing on a public building with washable marker was a great engagement idea used by the Gardiner Heart & Soul Team in Gardiner, Maine. Temporary “graffiti” was a way for the whole community to see what their neighbors were thinking and stimulated conversation!

Wha tdo you love about Gardiner? Chalkboard

3. Capturing ideas on drink coasters

  • The North Folk Valley Heart & Soul Team, North Fork Valley, Colorado, used coasters to get public opinion by having residents write what they loved about their community and what they would leave behind. To celebrate they created their own locally made “Lovett or Leave It” beer (that won a best pale ale award!).

Paper pinned to board

4. Photo contest with community discussions and an award

  • As part of Cortez Heart & Soul, the residents of Cortez, Colorado, were invited to take photos that showed off the both beautiful places in their town, and the not so beautiful places in a photo contest called “The Good, The Bad, the Ugly.” The photos were exhibited in local cultural center for the community to see.

5. Youth murals

  • Galesburg on Track, the Heart & Soul® project in this Illinois town, turned to children for help to figure out what was loved in their community. Volunteers took big sheets of paper to classrooms and the children drew what they loved about Galesburg. The results were colorful, insightful, and creative!

6. Post cards/rack cards

  • The Greater Carlisle Heart & Soul Team in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, placed post cards around town, in libraries, and churches. People were asked what they loved about their community and could weigh in on the back of the cards. The cards were then displayed so that everyone could see all the reasons their community is special.

Sticky notes

7. Heart Spots phone line with locations throughout the town

  • Biddeford Heart & Soul gathered stories about what people loved about Biddeford, Maine. The Team kept hearing about locations around the town that held special meaning. So, they hung signs in these “Heart Spots” with a phone number to call and leave a voicemail about what this one place means to them. The voicemails were turned into an mp3 recording so everyone could hear stories about their community.

8. Candy corn in jars to identify priorities

  • In Damariscotta, Maine the Heart & Soul Team used candy corn, that popular seasonal Halloween candy, to entice community members to give their opinions. At the annual Pumpkin Fest, which draws thousands to the town, attendees could vote on what makes the town special by putting candy corn in jars. This offered a fun and light way for residents to get involved and learn about the Heart & Soul project.

9. Remote polling using cell phones

  • Re-imagine Laconia a Heart & Soul project in Laconia, New Hampshire, posted signs asking people to text in something they liked about their town. They also asked community members to text a headline that captured something they envisioned for the future. “Colonial Theater Reopens as Community Arts Center” was one example of a headline one resident wanted to see.

Menu or Brochure

The number of ways to engage the community are about as limitless as the imagination. Hopefully you found some helpful hints in this post to try in your community! Follow us on Facebook (The Orton Family Foundation) and Twitter (@OrtonFoundation) for updates on Heart & Soul towns and our organization.

To read more about effective engagement check out this blog post on Top Ten Best Ways for Inclusive Engagement. https://www.communityheartandsoul.org/blog/top-tips-for-inclusive-community-engagement/