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You are presented with a new economic development opportunity that can be transformative for your community. It can be that mixed-use development that will draw a broad group of retailers and revenue to your city. Or it can be that expansive indoor sports facility that will not only expand your recreational assets but become a prime destination for youth sports tournaments in your region as well.
Whatever the opportunity, it has the potential to help make your community more dynamic or desirable which, at the heart of it, is something many people want.
Some of those opportunities require working with city or county staff and local elected officials to gain approval. While it takes a great deal of work to get these projects up the hill, there are certain projects that require a well-planned effort to climb the mountain. Seeking voter approval can be challenging for even the most exciting projects. There are many more decision-makers involved and while some people will see and align with your vision, others will push back and tell their own story about your project- one that can potentially grind away a great opportunity.
It is no secret that there is distrust among the electorate when it comes to matters requiring voter approval. Even projects that will help create new economic opportunities, improve amenities, or reinvigorate neglected areas can be looked at skeptically. For some communities – voters’ skepticism may be borne out of past experiences. You may be paying for the broken promises of the past.
No matter the electoral climate or history, being upfront and honest with your community will help build (or re-build) trust, shape the narrative, and ultimately, win you approval on Election Day.
To help build a narrative, you first must assemble all the pieces of your project into bite-size chunks so voters can consume them easily, and quickly. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t present the full story, but people are busy and don’t have the time to read up on every detail of the project. Give them the CliffsNotes version with links to ways to read detailed information about your project, should they desire.
Voters want to know what the benefit is to the community, as well as the details of the project. Oft-asked questions include:
These are just a few of the relevant concerns citizens may require you to answer.
Once you’ve compiled all the reasons why your project is a great benefit to your city– it’s time to get out into the community to share that message and answer questions. Oftentimes, this is where the campaign for a project fails. Leaders need to take the time to engage directly with residents at their doorstep. When you are honest and open about the facts of the project, and ready and willing to answer any questions voters might have, you can make a stronger case.
Attending neighborhood association meetings, community events, and campaigning door-to-door throughout the town to share why this project is needed will help build trust and buy-in.
This investment of time and energy will also help recruit new champions for your cause. There are so many individuals within our communities who do great things day in and day out for their neighbors. They may not be elected officials, or names that the entire town knows, but they have individual spheres of influence that can go a long way in helping garner support for a cause. Through these advocates, you can build a diverse and broad coalition.
Finally, when engaging with your community – notice what resonates. The feedback you receive at neighborhood meetings or with a citizen at their doorstep will tell you a great deal about what part of your project is the most attractive. You may find that certain messaging really connects with people. For example, voters may gravitate to the message that “Project A will lead to the creation of 500 new jobs for the community.” If that message gets a positive reaction – make sure to lead with it.
Buy-in may also be as simple as showing a rendering or picture of the final project. When voters can visualize what the end result will bring to the community, they are far more likely to support it. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the more you can highlight the visual aspects of your proposal, the more likely you are to get voters to approve.
It may be intimidated to go before the electorate and gain approval for a project. However, if you are organized, knowledgeable, and armed with statistics from the beginning, you can initiate an honest and open dialogue with the community. And if you believe in the impact your project can make, it’s critical that you do so. The conversations that you have today can be instrumental in building a great quality of life for your citizens tomorrow.