Government Leaders Share Tips to Engage Communities in ARP Spending

By Ashleigh Fryer and Kevin Parker

The Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown

With the passage of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act in March 2021, $350 billion has started flowing to U.S. local, state, tribal and territorial governments. If leveraged effectively, this once-in-a-generation investment has the projected potential to cut the national poverty rate by more than one-third and cut child poverty in half; fill gaps in critical healthcare coverage; and reduce the digital divide.

However, government leaders need support to marshal and deploy these resources. And without objective, data-informed guidance and peer-learning opportunities, governments may lack the tools and nuanced information necessary to achieve meaningful, sustained impact for their constituents.

To help fill this need, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University launched a workshop series in summer 2021 for government teams to dig into the specific priorities of the ARP. Designed to foster a community of sharing and collaboration as government practitioners navigate this historic influx of investment, the workshop series has surfaced promising approaches. Collectively, we’ve prioritized meaningful public participation and transparency around implementation of ARP funds.

In this short, four-part series, we will highlight some of the best practices and lessons learned from governments and their partners around public participation, procurement, delivering social safety net benefits, and using data to inform decisions and measure progress.

Best practices in public participation

Here are some key insights from three government organizations from across the country that are working hard to center members of the community in their work:

1. Use your past to inform your future.

City of New Orleans

This spring, with the memory of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina still vivid in the minds of New Orleans residents and government officials alike, Mayor LaToya Cantrell and her team committed to ensuring every dollar of ARP funds made it into the ground in their city. That meant establishing a stimulus command task force in April 2021 before any money had been dispersed, Cantrell’s deputy chief of staff, Liana Elliott, told workshop participants.

The task force is composed of working groups focused on five key areas based largely on lessons learned from Katrina — one of the city’s biggest crisis moments. Most notably, the case management working group has been in charge of informing residents of the help that is available to them through the influx of ARP capital, a service that was lacking in 2005.

“Your community has been through some defining event that is shaping your narrative,” Elliott said. “This is your opportunity to put your money where your mouth is, really do things differently and in a way that’s equitable and takes us where we need to go.”

2. Recognize your blind spots.

State of Nevada

In Nevada, state leaders knew they needed a robust strategic planning process to ensure ARP funds were effectively spent. And to make the process as inclusive as possible, State Treasurer Zach Conine also knew they would have to look beyond internal staff teams.

“Our state government is not as diverse as our state,” Conine said. “We needed to get an outside team who can help us take ideas [from the community], flesh them out into actual plans, and then map them.”

The state unveiled its Every Nevadan Recovery Framework and released a request for proposal for an external vendor to assist them in launching a statewide listening tour. The feedback collected during the tour — which encompasses 75 events in 75 days from August to October — will eventually be built into a roadmap for the expenditure of Nevada’s share of direct aid.

3. Meet people where they are.

City and County of Denver

In the spring of 2021, as Denver began transitioning from rescue to recovery mode, city and county government officials saw ARP funds as an opportunity to start long-term conversations centered not just around residents’ immediate needs, but their larger hopes for the city.

To seed those conversations, Kiki Turner, Deputy Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the City and County of Denver in the Department of Finance, helped oversee the launch of RISE Together Denver, a public engagement campaign. The initial three-week public input period included polling, forums, and four live-streamed telephone town halls, ultimately engaging more than 6,200 participants.

“We wanted to ensure that whether you were participating over the phone or on the website, that residents, through these different mediums, were all part of the same conversation,” Turner said. “A real goal for us in this process was to build long-term relationships with our residents, and these events were really important in getting us to that foundation.” This qualitative data, Turner said, will help foster transparency and enable the city to demonstrate direct connections between residents’ requests and government delivery.

The team at the Beeck Center invites you to visit our ARP resource website as we continue to build a community of practice of government practitioners navigating this once-in-a-generation moment of impact.

Photo by Gabriel Santiago on Unsplash

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