Proving data collection can actually be fun

September 9, 2021

Name: Sarah Prohaska

Title: Communications Director

City: Port St. Lucie, Fla.

City officials in Port St. Lucie, Fla., rely heavily on their annual strategic-planning process as a guide to allocating budget resources and responding to the needs of residents. They realized, however, that soliciting feedback through a series of small in-person meetings wasn't producing the kind of diverse data they needed on which to base decisions.
The answer to that problem came when the city's director of Strategic Initiatives and its communications team, led by Communications Director Sarah Prohaska, hatched an idea to solicit feedback through an annual Citizen Summit that features games and interactive activities aimed at turning a too-often dry and dusty data gathering process into something fun.
"We basically turned what was a boring charette into a really engaging, fun day," Prohaska says. "People love this event."
The Citizen Summit, one of the reasons What Works Cities awarded Port St. Lucie this year's Sharman Stein Award for Storytelling Changemakers, uses trivia contests, games for kids and other activities to lead attendees through a process that focuses on each of the city’s seven strategic goals—from ensuring a "safe, clean and beautiful" city to maintaining "high-performing government organizations."  
The summits, begun in 2018, usually draw about 600 people, Prohaska says. Even though the 2021 version had to be held virtually because of the pandemic, she says that most of the roughly 400 people not only participated, but stayed online for entire event.
The resulting data is shared with the city council and with residents and often informs the strategic plan. At the most recent summit, the need for more sidewalks, trails, and bike paths was a big issue that the council then reflected in the strategic plan. Residents also indicated they want to see more live music offered in the city, so a new concert series has been planned.
Prohaska comes from a background in journalism, and she says bringing a newsroom atmosphere has helped the team connect with residents. "We have liaisons to our department who function like reporters and find the stories and bring them back," she says. "We have two excellent videographers who look at every story through the lens of how will this engage residents. We all have a whole newsgathering style and I think that’s really helped us hone and tailor our messages in a way that residents can consume and enjoy." 

Pro-tip: "Always focus on the why and how whatever you're talking about will affect your residents or your audience."