BVCP flatirons

“It made me want to get involved in the future of my town”

– Code for Boulder member, Dan O’Brien

What’s the problem?

Problem Statement: Boulder community members need a way to be informed about and validate the work happening to revise the city’s vision plan because the key issues are complex and it is important that people provide meaningful input on options for consideration as we move forward but people need to be able to do this without going to a meeting.

This is the Problem Statement that Jean Gatza, Sustainability Coordinator with the City of Boulder, brought to Code for Boulder members at our last meetup at the Impact HUB. She wants to know how to reach people like us…people like YOU reading this blog. According to Jean, the City tends to hear a lot from the same few hundred people – people who can and will take the time to come to meetings, communicate to City Council and write Letters to the Editor of the Daily Camera. So, how can the City reach a broader audience for input?

What’s the situation?

  • The City needs to inform people about the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan (BVCP), “which the City of Boulder and Boulder County use to guide long-range planning and help preserve the built and natural environments in the Boulder Valley”. Every five years, Boulder and Boulder County update the BVCP. As Jean explained to the group “it is necessary for transparent and representative government that people provide their views and ideas and are partners in the process”.
  • The City wants input as they enter Phase 3 of the BVCP project. In this phase City staff, including Jean, are digging into the focus topics tBVCP_infographic_How_Public_Comments_Are_Used_2-10-16-1-201602170932hat were identified by the public and elected leaders in Phase 2. The goal is to work with the community to shape concepts and prepare well-researched options that could ultimately lead to policy proposals. During Phase 3 individuals can contribute ideas, review the analysis and make suggestions as policies and options are being prepared. This is the essential time when the community will begin weighing the pros and cons of potential choices, looking at tradeoffs, asking “what it would take,” and expressing preferences. Who does the City want to input from? Not just residents, but also people who work, study or visit Boulder – they all have an experience with our city that provides valuable insights.
  • The City wants to create a feedback channels for those that want continued engagement with the project – once you’ve shown interest, they like to hear from you again throughout the process.

What ideas did we generate?

People who came to our Code for Boulder meetup on March 9th first spent a few minutes writing their own ideas on sticky notes. Then three groups of five people each came up with the top 3-5 ideas generated by the group to share with Jean. What are some of the ideas?

  • Make data easy to share. Couple this with sound bites that people could read or respond to quickly. Use social media by having the data and sound bites readily available so it is little effort to share.
  • Take dialogue straight to the people – through mobile kiosks or tablets where people gather. Create a Mobile Policy Van.
  • Go places where people gather, work or play – open space trails, farmer’s market, 29th Street Mall – to discuss issues, record people’s ideas or take a poll. Signage creates awareness.
  • Communicate through organizations, employers and neighborhood groups. Reach out to local companies – get employees involved.
  • Online surveys with easy user interface and not too long.
  • Stronger Twitter strategy hashtag and stronger overall use social media with easy ways to share information. Share local trending topics on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Find a way to “gamify”, where best citizen/users ideas compete.
  • Controversy calls people out – use it!
  • Give people a sense of ownership of issues and power to be heard.

What’s next?

In the coming months, Jean plans to come back to Code for Boulder to test out the City’s engagement ideas and once launched, to encourage us to share them broadly.

How can you learn more and get involved?

Written by Geri Mitchell-Brown

Geri Mitchell-Brown is Code for Boulder's Captain and Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for CA Technologies' Agile Business Unit (formerly Rally Software). Contact Geri at and follow her on Twitter at @GeriMB.