Published: Aug. 10, 2018

Drawing of Boulder's Civic Communication Landscape in media, city-led spaces and community-led spaces.

Growing expressions of distrust of Boulder’s public process led the city of Boulder to appoint a 14-member community working group to identify ways to improve public process.  As part of their final recommendations in Summer 2017, the Public Participation Working Group (PPWG) recommended the co-creation of guidelines for civil and constructive conduct in meetings, dialogue, and decision-making processes.  As part of Boulder’s efforts to improve public engagement practices and activate these recommendations,, Boulder’s staff first conceived Building Bridges as a large public design workshop held in Fall 2017.

In early 2018, the city invited CDE (then BoulderTalks) to support the iterative co-design of Building Bridges.  Combining the principles of deliberation and design, the workshop set out to build the public’s capacity to innovate public process and grapple with their role in changing Boulder’s culture of public engagement.  

Facilitated discussions asked community participants to brainstorm norms (i.e., standards for action) to guide Boulder’s public engagement.  After sharing in small groups, participants had the opportunity to thematize and prioritize candidate norms through a dot-voting exercise.  The next phase of the process allowed community members to deliberate to surface tensions and trade-offs associated with proposed norms. Earlier iteration of the process moved community members towards developing design prototypes, whereas later processes focused on developing a more robust sense of the tensions that would need to be managed and the trade-offs community members would be willing to make to improve public engagement.   

Co-director Leah Sprain led the design process collaboration and facilitated events.  Research Lydia Fellow Reinig supported design work, including the training of 18 undergraduates, graduate students, and community members to serve as process facilitators and note-takers.  

This team was responsible for facilitating two processes in February.  Thirty-four faculty, staff, and students participated at the workshop held in conjunction with CU’s Diversity Summit.  Twenty-one community members attended a public workshop held at the Boulder Public Library.

To broaden strategic outreach, Building Bridges was held with 16 leaders from across Boulder’s houses of worship at First Congregational Church.  An additional seven community members attended a process at New Vista High School.

Amended format discussions were held with Boulder Housing Partners and at Mylk House Salon, with approximately 15 community members in attendance across the two processes.

In July 2018, a revised process was held with members of Boards and Commissions for the city of Boulder.

During Spring 2018, BoulderTalks undergraduate student, Sheridan Gill, served as an intern for the project, supporting facilitation and note-taking at events and assisting Graduate Fellow Reinig with the reporting process outcomes and next steps.  Bill Shrum, Department of Communication MA student, also supported this project by creating ‘wayfinding graphics’ that provided a visual representation of the trajectory of the conversations and key themes tracked across processes.

Across these meetings, we heard recurring iterations of several norms to guide Boulder’s public engagement efforts: listening; disagreement; personal accountability, curiosity, power, co-creation, and common ground for action.

Community member also developed norms specific to guiding the ways the city of Boulder convenes public engagement: inclusive of diverse voices; receptive and responsive to community input; accessible through broad outreach; organized; and maps issues to enable creative problem solving.

As an outgrowth of the Building Bridges in-person process, CDE staff collaborated with the city to propose discussion questions for the city’s new online engagement platform, Be Heard Boulder, and facilitate these online discussions.  To foster involvement from the business community, CDE also collaborated with city staff to design an online survey to gain feedback on candidate norms.

The culmination of Building Bridges design workshops will inform a group of community volunteers, who will synthesize the input and co-construct ways to activate a new culture of public participation in Boulder.  Phase Two is set begin in September 2018.