From Hurricane Harvey to Multi-Modal Outreach. How Harris County facilitated an open and transparent process of public engagement.
Harris County, Texas is the third largest county in the United States and the largest in Texas. It is home to 4.73M people, including the 2.3M residents of Houston, its county seat. Harris County is unique among all counties in the nation for having an unincorporated area population of more than 2M residents.
The Harris County Flood Control District is responsible for building flood damage reduction projects across the county and includes the oversight of all major watersheds and channels.
From Hurricane Harvey to Social Distancing
In August of 2018, Harris County voters approved the use of local bond funds to finance flood damage reduction projects. This funding, together with other funding sources, supports a wide variety of recovery and resiliency initiatives.
With over 4.7 million residents and 145 languages spoken, the daunting task of open, accessible public engagement was made all the more complicated in the midst of COVID-19. To solve some of the transparency and accessibility challenges, the District and its consultant, KGB Texas Communications, leveraged PublicInput’s Public | Meetings platform module to “go virtual.”
Harris County and the KGB Texas team used the PublicInput platform to:
- Broadcast their Zoom conference publicly on the web
- Provide a toll-free line with a managed speaker queue
- Manage meeting registration
- Collect public comment via phone, email, and online
- Transcribe voice comments and create reports on all public comment
- Publish multi-lingual meeting transcripts
The virtual accessibility allowed for increased accessibility in a time of social distancing.
The level of engagement has skyrocketed. When COVID-19 hit, we were concerned our conversations with the public would stagnate. Instead, the Flood Control District is talking to an increasing number of people in each meeting. – Emily Woodell, Consultant
By March 2021, the District had seen a three-fold increase in meeting attendance along with higher rates of input received from the community.
The feedback from the community has been incredibly positive and residents have noted that the platform is incredibly accessible and very easy to use. We focus a lot on equity and access, so the fact that the platform offers options for residents to dial-in or join online was critical. – Emily Woodell, Consultant
A year later, the District has continued to see expanded engagement through the use of multi-modal outreach and tactics that include, virtual public meetings, social media, email, online surveys, and map-based commenting.
Read more about the Harris County Flood Control District initial engagement success in the full case study HERE.
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