"I came into this process thinking I knew exactly how I felt about this issue, and it turns out I had a lot to learn," said Bill Wright, Citizens' Initiative Review panelist from Parker, Colorado. "I have changed my mind on some of the issues related to GMO labeling, but more importantly, I've learned that this isn't about how I feel personally. It's about determining as a group what information is most relevant to Colorado voters."

Client Success Story

Citizens' Initiative Review

Background

Healthy Democracy, an Oregon-based nonprofit, approached Engaged Public in early 2014 about managing the pre-election pilot of the Citizens’ Initiative Review (CIR) process in Colorado. Healthy Democracy knew Engaged Public was a natural fit for this role because the firm had previously managed, implemented, and facilitated large-scale, high-visibility projects including TBD Colorado, Colorado’s Future, and the Biennial of the Americas.

The Citizens' Initiative Review process takes 20 voters who represent the demographics of the voting population and asks them to review an initiated ballot measure. Panelists hear from proponents and opponents of the measure, and are tasked with providing voters with the most important information about the measure. The review culminates with panelists drafting a "Citizens' Statement," a one-page document containing important facts and arguments, pro and con.

presentation at CU

The project's goal was to test the educational impact and general acceptance of the Citizens' Initiative Review process, as well as its usefulness as a voter tool and supplement to the state voters' guide, or Blue Book. Within a three-month time span leading up to the Nov. 3 election, the project needed to maintain the integrity of the Oregon process and also be adapted to the unique policy and political landscape of Colorado. In addition, the project needed to garner enough public attention to be evaluated for its effectiveness in helping voters.

The project operated under a condensed three-month planning and preparation timeline. Major project milestones included assembling an advisory board of Colorado leaders; sending panelist questionnaires to 5,000 Colorado voters; narrowing the pool of responses down to 20 panelists by randomly selecting demographically diverse voters; and personally communicating with selected panelists to commit to a trip to Denver for the Sept. 7 -10 review. During the process, Engaged Public would manage communications for panelists, advocates, media and the research team.

Challenge

The pilot project required A-Z project management with the extra challenges of:

  • recruiting the public to participate in an unfamiliar process;
  • assembling 20 individuals from across the state to dedicate 3.5 days to something completely unknown;
  • facilitating a highly complex and controversial ballot issue under a research spotlight;
  • educating voters about the purpose and impact of the work through public relations, and;
  • meeting the goals of a program from another state while staying relevant to Colorado’s political environment.

Solution

The Engaged Public team worked with Healthy Democracy to study the Citizens’ Initiative Review in Oregon, including making a trip there to watch the process in action. The team also modified the process specifically for the Colorado pilot.

Once the process was underway, the team collaborated with Healthy Democracy but also took complete ownership, keeping the macro in mind while implementing the micro.

Engaged Public successfully managed multiple pieces of the process: communications, project management, and facilitation. The success of the event spoke to Engaged Public’s diverse skill set demonstrated before and during the process.

The team vigorously recruited citizen participants through numerous hours of emails and phone calls. This included personalized attention, individualized accommodations, and dedicated listening to alleviate participant concerns and provide reassurance that the review was a legitimate process of high benefit to the state.

Because it was a pilot project, the review would not be included in the Colorado Blue Book voters’ guide. For this reason, Engaged Public implemented an extensive public relations campaign to raise the program’s profile across the state.

Results

Twenty citizens traveled from the far reaches of Colorado – some as far as four hours by bus – to Denver for the review. Careful preparation resulted in the need for only one alternate.

With its special blend of humor, experience, and expertise, Engaged Public inspired cohesiveness within the citizen panel. This resulted in relationships that continued afterward and a desire by many to become more involved in voter issues and the political process, including making the Citizens’ Initiative Review part of Colorado law.

The Citizens' Initiative Review in Colorado went from virtually unknown to a featured topic by state and national media outlets including Colorado Public Radio, National Public Radio, CBS4 Denver, Rocky Mountain PBS, iNews Network, Westword, Denver Post, Pueblo Chieftain, Boulder Daily Camera and Fort Collins Coloradoan. It became one of Engaged Public's biggest media successes.

In addition, the process was described as "largely fair and unbiased" by Katherine Knobloch, a researcher from Colorado State University studying the pilot. "We look at whether the process favors one side or the other," she said, "and we generally find that it does not."

Citizen Engagement by the Numbers

  • 5,000: Invitations mailed to voters.
  • 20: Panelists who reviewed the measure.
  • 105: The proposition selected for review.
  • 2010: The year the Citizens' Initiative Review became a part of Oregon's election process.
  • 257: Greatest distance (miles) traveled by a participant.

presentation at CU

Engaged Public: Capabilities and Expertise

The Engaged Public team brings a specific and unique set of skills to the table that help make public engagement campaigns a success, including:

  • Comprehensive leadership
  • Impeccable understanding of the policy environment
  • Negotiation, consensus and relationship-building skills
  • Conversation architecture creation, logistics, and group facilitation
  • Transparency to ensure integrity of process
  • Research, report writing, policy analysis and content production
  • Public relations and media relations support
  • Innovative methodology utilizing technology tools, including:
  • Rapid response, flexibility and adaptability to change process to meet changing results
  • Synthesis of old tools (written analysis) with new tools (keypad polling, budget simulation)
  • Political "savvy" to develop implementable recommendations
  • Ability to facilitate ideologically diverse viewpoints and opinions for any organization, event or community
  • Responsiveness to parties whose views may or may not carry the day
  • Delivery of meaningful, actionable policy recommendations
  • Willingness to go the extra step and work harder, even outside original template