Census Legacies Toolkit

Evergreen Community Advisory Group

The 2020 Census Outreach Tables provided incredible opportunities for communication and collaboration between different regional stakeholders, including community-based organizations, government agencies, businesses, and research partners. Census Legacies seeks to build on these relationships and leverage the benefits of having authentic engagement by including a multi-issue community advisory board that can represent a cross-sectional “voice of the community,” much in the way that local business associations such as Chambers of Commerce and Economic Development Corporations serve as the general “voice of business” in a given area.

Traditionally, community advisory groups have been an important component in ensuring a diversity of voices in decision-making processes, but there exist limitations in the scope, breadth, and viability of many of these models. Often, community advisory committees are tied to particular institutions such as city councils or planning commissions, and tend to be appointed and controlled by government institutions. Jurisdictions may also create ad hoc advisory committees that serve only until the specific issue is resolved, at which point recommendations are made to the board and staff and the group is dissolved.  Alternatively, an “evergreen community advisory board” consisting of Census coalition members would ensure sustained representation from organizations and groups who have traditionally been excluded from important decision-making processes that impact their regions and communities. Additionally, the advisory committee’s continued involvement in regional decision-making processes and generalized nature ensure that more organizations are aware of and represented in major community decisions.

How are community advisory groups currently constituted? 

At its most basic level, community engagement might not go too far beyond “checking off the box,” say of holding a public meeting or briefing to hear resident concerns. 

Beyond this basic level, some government and philanthropy groups might consult selectively with one or a few community organizations. This leaves many community stakeholders without a voice in the process and potentially over-exhausts select organizations who are called upon for input.

At a more advanced level, community engagement may be robust, but issue specific (education advisory group, housing advisory group, etc.)

 

Our research indicates a few potential limitations in current models:

Although community input is always an important component to decision making, this level does not provide opportunities for in-depth or sustained involvement.

With the selective input of a limited number of community organizations, they can be stretched beyond capacity. This model also excludes other organizations from having a say in their region’s political, economic, and social direction.

Issue-specific community engagement has the potential for siloed thinking and precludes a diversity of perspectives.

Key features of an “evergreen community advisory board” include multi-topic, long-term engagement (not just one-shot engagement). This model would focus on the process, not solely specific issues and aim to ensure that as many organizations have input and awareness in major community decisions. This group could play a role in future investments in the region from multiple sectors, including economic development projects, education, infrastructure, and health.  The evergreen community advisory board would not be a substitute for a more specialized community engagement; instead, its generalized nature can provide opportunities for more organizations to be involved, limit siloed thinking, and provide valuable insight in the underlying dynamics of certain disparities.

Important First Steps

Leveraging the momentum of the Census work is crucial to building an Evergreen community advisory board. The most important first step includes identifying a point of contact (as well as one or two alternative contacts) and updating the contact information of potential members, including current email addresses and phone numbers. Ensuring that members remain engaged in the group is crucial. As such, building community among the members through team-building and leadership activities is crucial to a successful advisory group. Identifying major issues of the region and familiarizing the group with the cycles of important issues such as redistricting and housing plans can help guide the work of the group and ensure that the work is meaningful and impactful. The advisory group can look to other parts of the toolkit for strategies to demonstrate the value of being consulted.