December 19, 2012 By Sarah Rich
For a city faced with budget cuts, like most across the nation, Monrovia, Calif., decided to become more inventive when soliciting feedback from the community on how to improve the city.
Since 2008, Monrovia has seen a 17 percent reduction in staffing positions and $2 million in cuts to some of the city’s key programs. Despite this, the city is working to develop a communitywide strategic plan to help decide the most important items for the city to focus on over the next five years.
“That will establish our strategic actions and prioritize our goals for the next several years,” said Monrovia City Manager Laurie Lile. “The city of Monrovia, like most cities in California, has had to reduce revenue for about the past five years, and we’re at a point where we need to be more focused and thoughtful about the services we provide and the programs we undertake.”
To help carry out Monrovia’s strategic plan, the city is utilizing both low- and high-tech solutions for collecting feedback from its residents. Lile said that through a combination of a crowdsourcing website, workshops, phone calls and questionnaires in residents' water bills, the city is compiling the feedback it needs to make improvements down the road.
Lile said one strategy for hearing back from citizens was to deploy "Plan Monrovia," a crowdsourcing website hosted on a website called MindMixer that serves as a virtual town hall for cities.
"It's inevitable that cities will regularly use the Internet to solicit feedback from citizens about all kinds of issues in the near future," said Jed Sundwall, president of Measured Voice, an Internet communications consultancy for the public and private sectors. "The trick is creating systems that are easy to use and help citizens realize that they can have a real impact on their community over the long term."
According to MindMixer, ideas submitted to the website receive feedback from those in the online community, who also can “second” ideas that they particularly like. MindMixer websites have been deployed across the U.S. in cities such as Greensboro, N.C.; Lubbock, Texas; and Kansas City, Mo.; with more than 25,000 ideas submitted.
Plan Monrovia was launched on MindMixer in November, and already 38 ideas have been submitted. One idea, submitted on Nov. 27 by “Ron H” suggests that Monrovia should provide food and water for bears.
“… My idea is probably controversial, but I hope it, or a variation of it, will be considered,” Ron H posted on MindMixer. “A location in the mountains, accessible using one of the fire roads, could be used to provide food and water for the bears. This should keep them in the mountains and out of the local neighborhoods …”
Other ideas on Plan Monrovia suggest addressing the city’s depreciated infrastructure, improving city parks and creating a volunteer liaison between schools and businesses.
By mid-January of 2013, Lile said the ideas submitted from MindMixer, the workshops and the other input will be brought to the City Council to determine the top priorities for improving the city.
“All of the ideas and community voices expressed go into how the City Council makes decisions about programs and services in our upcoming 2013-2015 budget,” Monrovia Mayor Mary Ann Lutz said in a statement.