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Champions Clear Vision Case Study


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2007 UK Champions of Participation Case study of Clear Vision Eau Claire project

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Champions Clear Vision Case Study

  1. 1. Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA Communities with clear vision Mike Huggins Summary In the city of Eau Claire in Wisconsin, USA, a community visioning and strategic planning process is currently giving citizens new opportunities to participate in decision-making in their communities. This case study describes how a coalition of government and non-profit organisations, led by the city of Eau Claire, worked with a broad cross section of community members to develop a vision and strategic plan for the area and to find solutions to the challenging problems they face at a time of rapid change and budget constraints. Mike Huggins is City Manager of Eau Claire.
  2. 2. Background Eau Claire is a city of 66,000 people and serves as the regional economic centre for 12 counties in western Wisconsin, USA. The city is located in Eau Claire County, which has a total population of 95,000. Eau Claire County includes 15 separate local municipal government organisations, 12 distinct school districts and 3 special lake districts. The greater Eau Claire community, including much of the County population, is confronting a daunting set of choices about future investments in critical public and civic facilities and services. Decisions facing citizens and local governments are complex, interconnected and go far beyond the capacities of any single government jurisdiction or community organisation. City government alone has lost over $4 million annually in state shared revenue funding since 1995. Similar decreases have been experienced by county government and the area school district. In 1995, 48% of local government revenues came from state shared revenue, and 26% from local property tax. In 2008, 25% of local revenues came from state revenues and 49% from local property tax. At the same time the state has limited the total growth of local government expenditures to an average of 2%. Given local contractual obligations for annual cost of living increases, greatly increased fuel and energy costs and double-digit increases in annual health care costs (in 2007 the City confronted a 56% increase in projected health costs), local governments have eliminated jobs and reduced public services and maintenance. They have increased classroom size and reduced funding support for non-profit community agencies such as the museum, arts organisations, seniors centre and low-income housing and social services. During the same period the greater Eau Claire area has also continued to experience physical development and a growing, more socially and economically diverse population. In addition, the combined public facility infrastructure needs for schools, arts facilities, libraries, courthouse and jail, sewer plant, and community centres exceed $400 million in construction costs. Dean Schultz, co-chair of the economic development work group, presents preliminary group results on identifying community priorities for economic development. 02
  3. 3. What happened and the funding organisations contracted The Clear Vision process is unique in with the National Civic League (NCL) many ways: why was it significant? from Denver, Colorado to facilitate the community planning process. The NCL • The many disparate local In March 2007 an informal meeting is a 100 years+ non-profit organisation government organisations and of government and non-profit devoted to increased participatory community organisations have never organisation leaders was convened citizenship and civic infrastructure in joined in an inclusive citizen-based to discuss pressing challenges for local communities in the US. Working collaborative effort to identify community services and facilities. with a NCL project facilitator, the initial common needs and priorities. The result was an ad hoc coalition group of convenors recruited a 15 Community planning efforts are committed to implementing an member Initiating Committee which typically conducted by a inclusive problem-solving approach included some of the initial convening government agency as a formal to community planning. This group leaders as well as eight additional decision-making process ultimately secured $40,000 in funding from the citizens reflecting the geographic accountable to a single government City of Eau Claire, Eau Claire County, and social-economic diversity of authority. Chamber of Commerce, a local the community. charitable organisation United Way, • Usually in governmental planning Eau Claire Area Foundation, University In the second step of the planning processes, citizens provide input at of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and the process, leadership responsibility designated times. In the Clear Chippewa Valley Technical College. shifted to the Initiating Committee Vision process, citizens are actively They then contracted the National who planned the year long community engaged in designing and Civic League to facilitate the planning process. They created the work conducting the process, determining process combining both large committees to support the process and the format and substance of community planning meetings with identified 500 Eau Claire community recommendations, writing the small focused work groups to develop members to be invited to participate as final report and determining the a clear set of community priorities, stakeholders. The initial list of potential implementation strategies. implementation strategies and stakeholders was selected to reflect measurable outcomes. a cross-section of the diversity of the • The recruitment of citizens in this community by gender, age, geographic way is unique; many of them had The subsequent ‘Clear Vision Eau location, race, employment and never before participated in public Claire’ community visioning process income. The Initiating Committee made policy discussions and came as was designed to bring all sectors of the particular efforts to recruit participants individuals rather than community together to create a broad from under-represented groups representatives of organisations community vision and strategic plan, especially from low income and or government agencies aimed at building a reinvigorated sense minority ethnic groups. The expanded of community purpose with clear recruitment efforts included meeting • Participants who reflected the community priorities for the future. directly with members of the Hmong diversity of the Eau Claire The ‘Clear Vision’ process did not community (a large minority Asian community in terms of gender, replace the formal planning, decision- ethnic group in Eau Claire), African- age, racial/ethnic background, making and budgeting processes of the American leaders and local trade and economic interests were city, county, and school governments unions. While the outcome was not actively recruited. but strengthened the community’s civic a perfect representation of Eau Claire, capacity for effective collaboration by • There is an emphasis on integrating with more women than men and fewer providing an integrated and coherent the perspectives of traditional people from low income groups, it was community perspective essential for decision-making organisations an extremely diverse group of people. effective coordination between (government, business) with citizen government agencies. participation. The large public meetings were held every three to four weeks with The initial planning phase centred on • Large group processes and small participants seated around small 10 community meetings held at a local group discussions have been discussion tables to encourage church. While the planning meetings integrated to facilitate active everyone to speak. The initial planning were open to the general public, a participation. phase concludes in June 2008 with core group of 150 citizens provided a report written by the citizens a consistent core of participants. Regardless of the final outcomes, themselves identifying priorities in six This group was recruited to broadly simply getting the Clear Vision process important community areas: community represent the ethnic, geographic, age, underway is a significant community collaboration / partnerships, education, gender, and occupational status of the achievement. Eau Claire has many health care, transportation, quality of community. They included government different levels of government, all with life and economic development. The officials, representatives of community similar tax systems and all providing goal is to identify ‘trend-benders’ – non-profit organisations, business, services to the same community, but strategic actions that will dramatically neighbourhood activists, students, they rarely ever met. Churches and change the rate and direction of and retirees. not-for-profit organisations also community change and effectiveness. tended to work in isolation. Yet issues These participants were recruited affecting Eau Claire such as cuts to through a two step planning process. public expenditure impact on services in First the initial group of leaders from all areas and affect all of these groups 03
  4. 4. as well as cutting across the different Gender and race was fairly easy. generate a lot of energy. That is how levels of government. It is significant Identifying a general occupation the original ad hoc planning group therefore that despite the limited was possible, income was not. While was started. resources that government and other recruiting a mix of generations was organisations are faced with, there was critical, actually going beyond ‘youth, 2. Well planned, well-facilitated a great willingness to provide funds for middle age, and old’ was difficult. meetings can accomplish this visioning process. It was as if the many things. idea of having a broader conversation 3. Retaining participants after Much can be achieved if the about Eau Claire seemed to resonate the initial two meetings was meetings are designed well and with all groups and this in itself was challenging. there is a genuine commitment to hear an achievement. Many participants wanted to move the views of citizens themselves. The quickly to identifying solutions most effective community meetings without working through a thorough combined succinct presentation of What were the assessment of community needs information in a large group setting, which required continued commitment with small group (5-10 participants) challenges? over time. discussions to ensure that everyone 1. Securing joint funding from felt able to talk and participate. 4. Efforts to communicate through government and community a project website and email were 3. Creating public space for organisations. not completely successful. citizens is important. The challenge was getting This was largely due to the difficulty of Places such as community public organisations to contribute funds working across three or four different meetings – where citizens can assess during a time of reduced funding for agencies and working with volunteers. and discuss important community most of the organisations and when There was often not the time or skills issues – are vital to the process. none had been previously budgeted. to check that information was correct Creating an environment which is It was also difficult to find a neutral and up-to-date. accessible and where citizens feel non-government organisation (the Eau Claire Area Foundation) to comfortable can in itself help to manage the project contract. facilitate discussion. What were the lessons? 2. Recruiting a diverse and inclusive 4. Blend citizen passion with core group of citizens. 1. Never under-estimate the power technical knowledge and expertise. Identifying a potential list of over of convening a public meeting. Creating issue focused work groups 500 citizens reflecting community Simply inviting citizens to come helps move the process onto the next characteristics of age, gender, ethnicity, together and talk about common stage and starts creating solutions for income, neighbourhood was difficult. problems and possible actions can the identified problems. Thank you to Megan Donnelly and Laura Cornish for their assistance with researching, writing and editing. April 2008. 04