Groton launches online community engagement platform

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November 26 — GROTON – Groton has a new tool to go beyond the traditional public meeting.

The city launched a new website, greatgroton.com, as a community engagement platform for city staff to post topics and projects and hear feedback from people who live, work or visit Groton.

People can register on the website and then log in to comment, fill out polls and polls and suggest ideas, said Sam Eisenbeiser, economic development specialist for the town of Groton.

“This platform is designed to complement all other public comment / feedback channels that we currently have,” Eisenbeiser said. “It’s not designed to replace anything, but we think it offers a very convenient way for people to keep up to date with projects in the city and give us feedback when it suits them. better.”

Topics currently on the site range from how Groton should spend his American Rescue Plan Act funding and what should be spruced up in Groton to a lighter article on turkeys nicknamed Thelma and Louise who made frequent appearances. outside of businesses along Route 1. There is also a suggestion box where people can make comments or suggestions, as well as a feature called “What the Fact?” In which people can ask the city to verify the information they have heard.

There are public discussion threads for the topics. The city lists staff members who monitor comments for each thread and can post in response to comments.

“It is designed to improve the transparency of data collection and decision-making that takes place in the city,” Eisenbeiser added.

Lauren Post, the city’s economic development technician, said she and Eisenbeiser attended a workshop at an annual convention of the Connecticut Municipalities Conference a few years ago where they discovered the platform. Bang The Table’s online community engagement program. She said they thought it was really neat, and while it wasn’t a good time at the time, there have been some hot topics in Groton recently and transparency has become a priority, so the city ​​thought it would be a good time to launch the platform.

Post said many people were commenting on Facebook, but the city was unable to capture all of the comments. Post said, “It’s hard to go and correct the misinformation, so we figured we would meet people where they are, who are often online, and we could give them the transparency and voice that they deserve.”

People who signed up and provided a valid, verified email address can comment under a username, and Post said the benefit of this is that people who may not have felt right to comfortable expressing themselves using their name can always express their opinions.

Tabitha Harkin, community development planner, said it can be difficult for people with children or the elderly to attend a public meeting.

People raising a family may have obligations that prevent them from attending a meeting, or individuals may have language barriers. Historically, retirees or semi-retirees are more likely to attend in-person meetings, Eisenbeiser said.

“We really want everyone to feel like the channel that suits them the best, it’s easier and easier to have their voice heard,” he said.

All municipal departments can use the site and post topics of interest, and the city is also working with the city of Groton.

The platform also comes as the city is expected to receive $ 8.5 million in funding from the American Recovery Act.

“As a stipulation to this funding, the US Treasury urged every community to involve their constituents in developing plans to use these payments given” the scale of the funding and its potential to catalyze a broader economic recovery. ” , Harkin said. “In order for the town of Groton to engage in this type of community outreach during an active pandemic, we invested in an online community engagement platform at a cost of approximately $ 15,000 per year, as it had the robust functionality of being a secure and moderate platform. for the community’s contribution. “

As the city collects data on how people want to spend ARPA funding, the city plans to use a budget simulation tool that would allow people to show how they would hypothetically allocate the funding into “buckets” or categories, a. declared Eisenbeiser. The idea is that it would give the city more data on how people want to spend ARPA funding.

The city also plans to use the site to provide more detailed information on real estate redevelopment projects, such as providing a development timeline, especially as the deadlines are often long and endless with many meetings and audiences, and renderings. of the proposed project, Harkin said.

Post has said for a long time that municipalities operate according to the model that people can come and find all the information they want at the town hall or at the annex of the town hall from Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. , but this time limit may not work for some people. Now, if people think of something at 6 p.m. on the weekend, they can go online and post it, and somebody in town will see it and respond to it.

The city has also set up two kiosks with laptops – one at the Senior Center and one at the library – so people who may not have their own devices can access the platform, Harkin said. .

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