Melinda Lockhart of SMARTnTX is working to bring smart city solutions to the East End neighborhood of Dallas, Texas. She needs to engage the community in conversations about what solutions would be most impactful in their lives. The challenge here is that although East End has a large percentage of tech-savvy residents, many of them may not be aware of what type of smart city solutions are available to ask for in future projects. That is where Lockhart must become a translator of community needs. Her role is to craft an engagement program that will tease out the needs of the community, so she can then translate those needs into areas that may be addressed with smart-city solutions.

It is a common challenge to involve residents in a project where they may not understand all of the moving pieces involved or the range of possibilities. Lockhart addressed this challenge by crafting an engagement program that focused participation on gathering the tangible needs that people experienced in the community. Next, she used this local knowledge to inform technical solutions that will address those community needs.

Another challenge is gathering input from stakeholder groups that may not see eye-to-eye. One approach to addressing this challenge is to first go to each of these groups separately and then bring their perspectives into the larger picture over time. Gladys Cornell of AIM Consulting used this approach while working on a transit project where she needed to bring in perspectives from developers, business and property owners, and other community groups that would not usually get involved in a municipal project and would not usually get along with each other.

18 months is a long time for sustained dialogue. There’s lots of technical stuff to have a conversation around, so the challenge is how to do this in an efficient way.
— Gladys Cornell

The first steps for the AIM team were to identify the key stakeholders and perspectives that they needed to participate by doing a community wide engagement. Next, they separated differing perspectives into different stakeholder groups so that they could meet with each of these groups and learn about their ideas and concerns in greater detail. All the while, it was important to explain to each group how important their voice was in the process, so that they would stay involved in the process. As AIM uncovered common concerns among the different groups, they could frame the dialogue in a constructive way and bring these groups into a larger discussion.