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The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) provides a unique opportunity for communities to benefit from federal resources. Local government leaders aim to spend this funding strategically to maximize its impact.
According to Matt Fulton, Polco Vice President of National Engagement, engaging residents will help local governments allocate ARPA expenditures in the best way possible. Fulton has served in local government for over thirty years as a City Manager. In his current role with Polco, he works with communities across the country to build strong and sustainable engagement and performance measurement programs.
“ARPA funding is a once in a generation opportunity for communities to think strategically about how to recover from the pandemic and move the community forward. It becomes incumbent to use those resources wisely. To spend this money in the best way possible, you need to understand the impacts COVID has had on the residents. Only by understanding this current reality can you best plan your way through COVID recovery,” said Fulton.
In this Survey Q&A video, I interview Fulton about how local governments can best engage residents to guide American Rescue Plan Act spending.
Understand Current Realities
So much change has occurred during the pandemic. Fulton says all this disruption makes it even more critical to seek community feedback to more clearly understand resident priorities.
By engaging community members about their current reality, leaders can better pinpoint the areas of most need. This can help them identify areas that will have the most impact and help leaders make decisions about how best to spend their ARPA funds.
“Collecting data and understanding the values that residents have will help you to be transparent. Elected leaders are expected to spend this money wisely and you need to have data to be informed about the appropriate ways to use the funds,” said Fulton.
An Ongoing, Iterative Process
Engagement is best, Fulton says, when it becomes an ongoing part of the community’s culture.
“When engagement is done well, it’s almost like establishing a conversation with your residents. This ongoing engagement helps set you up for success in the long-term,” said Fulton.
As one example, leaders can ask residents to prioritize different budget service categories. Then, they can continue the conversation by drilling into the details. What specifically is a priority within the most identified service categories?
“This iterative process of engagement allows you to start at a high level and work your way downwards so you can really understand at a more micro level what resident expectations and priorities are,” said Fulton.
Accessible, Organized, and Verified Data
According to studies by National Research Center at Polco, less than 20% of US residents say that they have ever attended a public meeting in person. And that was even before COVID-19. Technology can make it easier for people to engage on important topics. And in this golden era of communication tech, it’s all the more critical for governments to choose the right engagement tools.
“Currently many councils are getting input through email or [social media chatter]. Unfortunately, these communication methods don’t provide you organized data summaries. Through Polco, you get an aggregated data summary that can be organized at whatever level you might need from citywide to precinct,” said Fulton.
Polco is a suite of tools that make community engagement accessible and easy. Data is organized in helpful real-time visualizations. You can also see verified responses, meaning you can see which responses come from residents (in aggregate reports).
A Tangible Report To Justify American Rescue Plan Act Decisions
Local governments will need to show documentation related to how they spend their ARPA funds. Survey results provide tangible documentation you can use to justify your decisions.
Ultimately, though, including resident voices in allocating expenditures is a strategic investment in a better future for your community.
“Intentional resident engagement allows you to allocate resources in the most equitable way possible, rather than just making decisions based on the vocal minority. The tools Polco provides will help you make those informed decisions,” said Fulton.
You can visit Polco.us to learn more about community engagement tools for the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).