How Port St. Lucie Reimagines Resident Engagement

-By Julia Steege-Reimann-

Port St. Lucie, Florida increases community satisfaction through family-friendly engagement opportunities and a focus on turning feedback into action. 

The Port St. Lucie, Florida City Council’s vision is to be a “City for All People.” Yet, turnout at strategic planning public workshops has historically been low.

So, the City recently reimagined how it engages more residents and uses their feedback to make improvements. 

“This resident-focused dynamic process has led to stronger citizen satisfaction overall and a more efficient, effective and data-driven government,” said Kate Parmelee, Strategic Initiatives Director.

“Port St. Lucie’s creative engagement tactics and ability to turn feedback into action has greatly improved the quality of life for Port St. Lucie residents,” said Damema Mann, National Engagement Director for Polco/ National Research Center (NRC).

Data show Port St. Lucie’s efforts are paying off. Port St. Lucie regularly conducts The National Community Survey (The NCS) to gather feedback from community members.

Port St. Lucie’s residents rated multiple categories of The NCS higher in 2019 than in 2018.

Residents feel the City has become much better at welcoming citizen involvement, being honest, and treating residents fairly, among many other aspects of City life.

Port St. Lucie’s wide-reaching improvements have been recognized with a Voice of the People Award for Transformation in Foundations. This is the only national award that honors local governments based on feedback from residents. The award is presented by Polco / National Research Center (NRC) and the International City & County Management Association (ICMA). This award acknowledges local governments that make significant improvements on The NCS ratings and that take the best actions on behalf of their communities.

A New Way to Engage Residents

Gathering feedback from The NCS is a key component of Port St. Lucie’s new engagement strategy, but it’s just a jumping off point.

As a follow up to The NCS, in 2018 the City began hosting an annual #IamPSL Citizen Summit. The Summit’s purpose is to dive more deeply into the survey data by empowering participants to propose solutions to challenges raised by survey responses.

Participants provide feedback at interactive booths representing the City’s seven strategic goals. The event is drop-in, so residents do not have to worry about showing up at the beginning or staying until the end.

The Summit is geared toward all ages. Participants receive “PSL bucks” to “spend” at the various booths. Several booths have a specific focus for children, such as recycling, water conservation, and designing a playground. 

After someone provides input at a booth, they receive a stamp towards a “Roadmap to PSL’s Future.” After completing this “Roadmap”, residents are able to win t-shirts and other giveaways.

The City Council uses the reports from The NCS and the #IamPSL Citizen Summit to prioritize their projects at their annual strategic planning session.

Departments use the data to inform their plans and annual budget. Department evaluation processes and quarterly updates reflect progress on the quality, quantity, and efficiency of tasks completed towards the Strategic Plan.

“Each year, the process continues in a constant cycle of refinement that begins with resident feedback,” said Parmelee. “Through this dynamic system, our City hopes to continue to improve based on citizen feedback and realize our vision.”

Providing Focus to Departments

This deeper approach to engaging residents has led to many improvements both in terms of overall satisfaction, but also specifically in the categories of safety, mobility, natural environment, built environment and the economy, and recreation and wellness.

In these categories, The NCS and Citizen Summit provide more focus to the efforts of each department. 

For example, the Parks and Recreation Department used input from the Survey and Summit to help build its first ever strategic business plan and Ten-Year Parks and Recreation Master Plan. The City Council used the feedback to shape its environmental policy platform. And, the Council prioritizes projects that will improve mobility based on the specific feedback.

Outreach and Education

In addition to providing specific data to help make informed decisions, The NCS and Citizen Summit also encourage more community outreach and education.

For example, The City uses the Citizen Summit to educate residents about water quality efforts, potential solutions for infrastructure needs, and traffic safety. 

And, Port St. Lucie credits the successful passage of a Sales Tax to its recent engagement and outreach efforts. This sales tax will generate $88 million over the next ten years for needed infrastructure projects

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