Lessons Learned: Creating a Citizens’ Academy

Posted on July 13, 2015

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Welcome to the fourth (and final) post in a series about creating a citizens’ academy by former Dallas, OR administrative intern (and future Marion County, OR analyst) Daniel Adatto.  In this series, he will walk you through the most important lessons learned from creating the Dallas Academy.

Lessons Learned: Creating a Citizens’ Academy


It’s the homestretch! This is
the fourth and final post in a series about launching a citizen academy program in Dallas, Oregon.

Before going further, I want to thank you for keeping up with the series.

The reward in writing the posts has been hearing from you, and from learning about your plans to start your own academies.

In this final post, I’ll go over three lessons our organization learned after wrapping up our first citizens academy.

Basic Supply and Demand

When our academy was in the early planning phases, we were unsure how much interest the program would generate. Would enough citizens join? Or would we be forced to cancel due to lack of interest.

bbhpWe were delighted (and relieved) when the program’s 15 spaces quickly filled up. The demand for the Academy was so high that we ultimately had to form a waiting list.

The lesson we learned from this was that there is indeed a demand for such a program. Local citizens want to learn about what goes on in their community, and are eager to get into the details about how the wastewater treatment plant works, or how their property tax dollars are spent.

The participants were more than appreciative to us for investing the time and resources needed to be able to provide that service them.

Donn Anderson, a participant in our academy, had this to say about his experience:

“My wife and I are incredibly more informed about how our city functions as well as about the people that make it happen. It is reassuring to know that everyone really does take seriously providing the best possible ‘customer service’ to us as taxpayers, while at the same time accomplishing what needs to be done in the most cost effective means possible.”

Informational Overload

The second lesson focuses on content design. I think you know where I’m heading with this one – and it has to do with a much-loved slideshow software program

Throughout our academy, PowerPoint presentations were an effective way to for our speakers to present information about city services. Fact based knowledge and statistics are of course important to understanding how local government works, and are an important way to provide information and context to the academy experience.

However, a clear takeaway from the participants’ responses was that we spent too much time giving PowerPoints.

As a result, we were not leaving enough time for the fun stuff, such as demonstrations, tours, and exercises. In reflection, I’d say that we spent about 70% of our total time doing PowerPoint Presentations, and 30% of our time doing fun, interactive exercises.

I can’t pinpoint what a perfect blend of presentations and exercises would be, but due to the feedback we received, we will surely be integrating more interactive content while reducing time spent with presentations.


download (2)It’s a fun and often overlooked important detail, but don’t underestimate the power of free food. Even a modest spread can help create a relaxed and social atmosphere. We initially tried to go healthy, but ended up incorporating a bit of junk food by the end.

Ultimately, what matters most is just having something to snack on—you can always work out the details as the academy goes on and you have a better idea of what would works best for you.

It goes without saying that we plan to continue incorporating a healthy dose of snack food to help fuel our next academy.

Well, that’s it folks! I Again, thank you for keeping up with the series.

In signing off here, I want to make sure that you visit the University of North Carolina School of Government’s Citizens Academy Website.

The UNC website is the best online resource I found while researching academies, and it even has a database with information on academies across the country.


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