Building a Culture of Public Engagement in Marathon County: The Case of Uniform Addressing (Synopsis)

Marathon County asked WIPPS Research Partners to develop a training program to support a growing culture of public engagement to emphasize the importance of public input as part of governance. Two external issues helped drive this effort:

  1. The county was facing increasingly complex and divisive policy issues;
  2. Leadership was concerned about a lack of civic participation generally.

Three organizational motives were also articulated:

  1. To help elected officials take responsibility for exercising policy discretion
  2. To appropriately respond to “customer expectations”
  3. To support the county’s strategic goal to develop “a communication system with community to improve the public’s understanding of the services provided.”

WIPPS designed and began implementing a training program for the executive committee. Part way into the training process, a contentious issue around duplicate addressing emerged. This spurred county leaders to request that training be linked to a “real life” exercise. WIPPS then helped county leaders design a public engagement plan and strategy that began with a careful framing of the issue and included periodic coaching and review. The process yielded the following results:

  1. The goal of implementing an effective communication system was achieved, with county leaders reporting a more robust culture of active and intentional public engagement.
  2. The county cited WIPPS training as the direct cause of an increase in leadership skills development and capacity among officials and staff and a stronger team environment.
  3. With regard to rural addressing, county leaders reported that they appropriately named and framed the issue—uniform addressing problem—as a public safety concern.
  4. County leaders reported more confidence among elected officials in delivering a consistent message, keeping it focused, and keeping distractions to a minimum.
  5. The county noted that the uniform addressing solution gained strong support among Board members, Town leaders and the general public.
  6. The county successfully adopted uniform county addressing policy and publicly articulated a desire to continue to use public participation tools and processes learned.