Photo by Matt Donders on UnsplashThe Engagement Project

Forty years after Saint Paul created its District Council system, the city faces structural budget challenges and evolving expectations about community engagement—trends that could be at odds. This reality makes it an appropriate time to investigate ideas on how the city and District Councils can continue our dedication to vibrant community involvement—involvement that is more effective and more equitable, not only for a range of city initiatives, but also for a larger portion of the city’s residents.

In 2016, several District Councils launched a project – “The Engagement Project” – to investigate these ideas and more. Phase 1 of the project resulted in two reports:

1) The District Councils: A snapshot of Saint Paul’s community engagement system 
This report documents the existing District Council system—its activities, its capacity, and some of its impacts. It is a snapshot and a baseline of the most prominent feature of this community engagement system in Saint Paul.

2) Community Engagement Systems in Three Cities: A comparative analysis focused on achieving effective equitable engagement
This report is an overview of the community engagement systems in Boston, Massachusetts; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington. It combines on-the-ground observations with findings based on face-to-face conversations with dozens of city staff members, paid staff members of local neighborhood organizations, elected volunteer members of local neighborhood organizations, and others connected to community engagement efforts in the three cities.

Phase 2 of the project was completed in June 2018 and resulted in a third report:

3) Saint Paul’s Community Engagement System: Challenges, Possibilities, Revival for the District Councils
This phase of the project gave staff and board members (and, ultimately,additional community
stakeholders) the opportunity to discuss the challenges they see facing District Councils, both citywide and within individual organizations. These Phase Two discussions then began to identify specific ways in which individual Councils, city government, and District Councils as a system can pursue policies and activities that will make the city’s community engagement efforts more effective.