Is Your Community Business Accessible to Your Community?

Posted on August 11, 2023

City of Battle Creek City Commission for Neighbors: Agenda Preview August 1, 2023 with Jessica VanderKolk - City Communications

Today’s Morning Buzz is by Jessica VanderKolk, Communications Manager for the City of Battle Creek, Michigan. Connect with Jessica on Twitter/X (still holding on) and LinkedIn.

What I’m Reading and Watching: The Harry Potter series. I got my 10-year-old interested, so we are reading the books, then watching the movies. He likes the books better, which I consider a parenting win! We are about to watch Prisoner of Azkaban, and have started reading Goblet of Fire.

What I’m Working on: This year’s Communications staff report for our city commission, and this quarter’s community newsletter.

What I’m Excited About: #CityHallSelfie Day 2023, coming up on Aug. 15!!

An older gentleman often attends our city commission meetings and offers public comment on at least one of the evening’s agenda items. And often, his comments include that he doesn’t know a lot about the topic, and wishes he knew more.

I thought for quite some time about how to do that. I have been inspired by the “People’s Agenda” or “Citizen Agenda” peers have created – especially Karen Tapahe when she worked in Provo, Utah.


We know full agenda packets can get thick, and they are full of jargon, legalese, and official items – these are business meetings, after all. But they are also where a community’s major actions happen and, especially as a communicator, I so want our community to understand what’s coming that might interest or affect them, and be able to engage if they wish.


We started back in March, creating an introduction video that explains each section on our agendas, and our first agenda preview. Knowing video content still gets high traffic, this is how I wanted to approach an educational piece.

I have made some tweaks since that first video, like refining the thumbnail design, showing the online version of the agenda from the start and scrolling through it as I talk. I make sure my language is consistent, and try to keep it brief, but understandable. Most of the preview videos now are around five minutes long, a bit longer if we have a workshop beforehand.

A screenshot of a City of Battle Creek, MI municipal agenda.

I also always make sure I write a script before I start recording. I have been a communicator my entire career, but I am not skilled in impromptu public speaking. A script keeps the video concise, and gets right to the point of each issue, with a little less language filler.

We worked through a few iterations before also landing on Action Roundup videos, which started appearing in April. I started with graphics, but had to use so much text, it defeats the point of making this information accessible; we would need that text elsewhere, or prohibitively long alternate text on the images. 

The video tells viewers if any of our nine commissioners were absent, and essentially mirrors the information in the preview video, adding in the vote outcome on each item.

A screenshot showing resolutions before the City of Battle Creek, MI.

We provide a voiceover for the Action Roundup videos, and provide captions on our Agenda Preview videos. 

So far, these videos are showing us reach of up to 500, with several dozen views on YouTube; we keep them in our City Commission playlist, where you can also view our meetings. We also share them on the home page of our website, as well as on Facebook and Nextdoor. On average, the metrics on the other platforms are similar, though some of the videos are seeing clicks in the hundred, and reach over 1,000.

Compared to a typical handful of general attendees at a meeting, I receive those metrics in our first months of sharing these videos.

How do you make your elected body more accessible to your community? I would love to hear about it! 


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