Welcome to the second post in a series about creating a citizens’ academy by Dallas, OR administrative intern Daniel Adatto. In this series, he will walk you through how he created Dallas’ first citizens’ academy including the important research and academy elements he implemented.
I am writing to follow-up on a post that I wrote a few weeks ago about our city’s experiences in launching a citizens academy in Dallas, Oregon.
In my previous post, I explained how citizens academies have become a popular way for cities and counties to engage with citizens about the functions of local government. In the post, I also explained the reasons for why we felt that starting our own academy in Dallas would result in similar benefits for the local community.
In this second post, I’ll cover first how we researched the logistics of creating a citizen academy, and then the how we subsequently developed our program.
Ask the Experts
We quickly realized there were many basic logistical questions that we needed to answer before we could move forward with launching our own citizens academy. Questions revolved around practical and logistical concerns: When should we schedule the academy? How should we develop the curriculum? What is the best way to market the program? What kind of food, if any, should we serve?
To best answer some of these questions, I found it helpful to schedule phone meetings with professionals from other jurisdictions who had had experience managing their own academy programs.
Kirsten Wyatt, Assistant City Manager for the City of West Linn, Oregon, provided us with helpful advice and informative material from her experience in helping to launch the West Linn Leadership Academy.
Another individual I spoke with while researching our academy was Jodi Warren, City Clerk for the City of Snoqualmie, Washington. Jodi provided information about the Snoqualmie Citizens Academy, which has been active for nearly ten years.
The conversations that I had with these professionals proved to be invaluable as we began the process of tailoring our own academy to match our goals for the program.
Helpful Online Material
The Citizens Academy website, which is maintained by the University of North Carolina’s School of Government, also proved extremely informative and useful in helping us design and build our academy. The website provides a wealth of information and material on how cities and counties across the country have developed their own academy programs. Not only does the site provide links to other citizen academy websites, but it also includes a citizens academy database resource.
After considering several possible timeframes, we decided to schedule the academy program from February to May. This would ensure that we could accommodate families busy schedules more easily, as the timeframe avoided both the summer break season (when families are more likely to be on vacation), as well as the back-to-school fall season. The spring and fall times are generally the most popular time of the year to schedule citizens academies.
Developing a curriculum that gives each department enough time to present their material is challenging, especially when factoring in time for demonstrations and exercises. We decided to have six sessions, including the graduation ceremony. We condensed certain departments into single sessions in order to maximize our ability to include multiple local government topics in our program. For example, we created a “Public Safety” Session”, which covered Police, Fire, and EMS in one single evening class.
Although off-site visits are popular in other academies, for simplicity’s sake, we decided to schedule all of our classes at Dallas City Hall. Our academy did include guided tours of the Public Library and the Fire Station, since they are located within a block of the City Hall building.
Because everyone loves a good snack, we decided to serve light refreshments during our academy classes. As the classes can last up to three hours, we wanted the participants to be able to have something to eat during the sessions and as well as help break up the class period. Most of the academies I researched include some sort of refreshment.
Marketing and Recruitment
While advertising for our Citizens Academy, we made a concerted effort to utilize all of the marketing sources available to us. This included marketing and advertising on a range of multiple media platforms, such as social media, the local newspaper and on our website. Drawing on different media platforms proved helpful in reaching a broad audience and effectively communicating our goals for the program. In addition, we also received assistance from the Chamber of Commerce, who helped by distributing our informational flyers.
I hope this has been helpful in explaining how we planned and develop our program. In the next post, I’ll share how we how we plan to learn improve the program.