Because local cultural council members are responsible for distributing public dollars, councils need to solicit and collect local public opinion about how to best distribute funds. Most councils receive more requests than can be funded, and strong council priorities based on community input can help guide grant making decisions. Knowledge of resources, interests, and needs can help councils make difficult decisions and encourage community-responsive proposals.
All LCCs are required to conduct a community input process. LCCs receiving more than $20,000 must gather community input annually. All other councils must gather public input every three years.
Through community input, councils should have conversations with members of their community to collect diverse viewpoints about the community's resources, interests, and needs.
Are you familiar with all of the cultural organizations in your area?
Are you aware of the types of programs offered through local schools, senior centers, libraries, or other community centers?
Are you acquainted with the individual artists working locally?
What types of programming are residents interested in seeing more of?
In what cultural traditions do residents participate?
For example, is there a strong interest in education-related projects in your city/town?
Is there a need for programs that serve certain groups such as seniors, youth, or individual artists?
Do the current cultural offerings reflect the diversity of people in your community?
Do people with disabilities participate in local programs?
There are some tried and true strategies that councils can use to collect this information that are included in this section. But there are also many everyday ways that councils can stay connected with and talk to their community.
Council members can engage people that they meet through work, other volunteer assignments, or everyday routines. For instance, do some members have children in school? They can talk to teachers, other parents, and PTA members to find out how your LCC might better serve young people.
Council members should be the "eyes and ears" of the LCC. Councils should look for new opportunities where grants could make an impact. In addition to improving grants, gathering community input often helps a council:
- Establish LCC funding priorities that will achieve the greatest community benefit
- Gain additional visibility within the community
- Reach a community sector the council believes has been underserved
- Encourage new initiatives or collaborations among potential applicants
- Identify potential new applicants and council members
- Get feedback and support for a council-originated proposal
There are many creative ways to gather public input about how your community would like their LCC dollars spent. In order to reach the most people, many councils make use of a number of methods to gather community.
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Community Input Meetings
Community meetings can be powerful forums for sharing ideas, airing concerns and bringing new people into the LCC process. But unless people have a compelling personal reason to do so, most will not be inspired to attend a public meeting. Even with extensive publicity and direct-mail notices, too many LCC community input meetings have been so poorly attended that they don't fulfill the need for which they were developed. Assume that you will need to do something to make it appealing and personally relevant so that community members will be more likely to attend.
Some strategies for increasing attendance include:
- Involving a local public figure to host the meeting, such as the mayor or a select board member, principal, notable community service volunteer or executive
- Inviting local and state elected officials and provide an opportunity for them to share their comments and address participants
- Incorporating an arts event into your meeting, such as an exhibit or mini-performance by a local artist or group of teens
- Soliciting a donated prize from a local business which can be entered in a drawing for attendees
- Soliciting donated snacks or desserts from a local restaurant for attendees
PLANNING A COMMUNITY INPUT MEETING
When planning a meeting, consider the following:
- Councils should hold their community input meeting at the best time for the community; however holding it in the spring or summer will provide enough time to revise council priorities based on the information gathered, which must be publicized by September 1.
- If it is not possible to meet in the spring or summer, fall meetings can be combined with grant workshops for potential applicants. The disadvantage is that there will not be time to adapt and communicate any changes to council policies or grants criteria until the next year's cycle.
- Identify the time of day that works best in the community to avoid the most common scheduling conflicts from work, religious commitments, sports and family.
- Allow at least an hour for the meeting; more if there is an included artistic or social event.
- By law, the meeting must be held in a public, physically accessible location. Note this in all announcements. Libraries, schools, town hall and community centers are usually good possibilities.
- Prepare a meeting agenda organized around questions about community cultural needs. Feel free to use and edit the sample community input meeting agenda.
- Identify a facilitator to manage the meeting. It need not be the chair or even an LCC member. Pick someone who can be objective, move the meeting along on time and on topic and engage people in discussions.
- Consider handing out a written survey to gather feedback on specific questions and ask audience members to turn in the forms as they leave. More information about creating a survey can be found below.
- Invite a broad spectrum of the community. Consider reaching out to: applicants (both successful and unsuccessful), local artists, educators, the local chamber of commerce, library, historical commission, local/regional tourism office, art instructors, civic, business and clerical leaders, senior centers, cultural and other non-profit organizations, etc. Consider asking people on this list to bring another person whose opinion they respect.
MANAGING A COMMUNITY INPUT MEETING
Here are a few tips for managing a community input meeting:
- Respect people's time by starting and ending on time.
- Introduce LCC members and invite meeting participants to introduce themselves.
- State the meeting's purpose in simple terms, e.g., "We're here for two reasons: 1) To explain our program and priorities, and 2) To hear about what community needs you observe and how you think we should spend our limited funds."
- Devote most of the meeting to posing questions and listening to answers about needs and potential funding priorities.
- Record comments in writing - have a volunteer record key points on a flip chart while another takes more detailed notes on a notepad or laptop.
- Close the meeting by summarizing key ideas. Thank people for their help and remind them of how their suggestions will be used.
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Community Input Surveys
Surveys are especially useful when evaluating the council's priorities prior to the grant cycle. Consider handing out surveys at town meetings, cultural events, town celebrations or conducting an online survey as a way of gathering data or answering specific questions. Provide additional incentive for respondents by raffling off donated gifts to those that complete the survey.
Postcards are small and easily portable, ensure brevity and can be mailed in to the LCC by those who complete it, or gathered at the end of an event. Surveys could also be published in the local newspaper, administered on the street by LCC members or interns, or mailed out to members of the community.
The Medford Arts Council was particularly successful engaging local artists and the public through their community input process by hosting a postcard competition. They wrote a helpful "how to" postcard guide for other LCCs that are interested in pursuing the idea.
Online surveys allow councils to collect responses over time, and easily review survey results without having to do a lot of data entry. Surveymonkey is a low-cost and easy-to-use online survey providers that make creating an online survey more accessible to those with limited web skills.
Municipalities may also be willing to help with creating and posting the survey. Once created, promote the survey through local media, by emailing the survey link to council contacts and listservs, and by word of mouth. Councils may use administrative funds to pay for these kinds of resources.
Feel free to tailor these sample surveys for your purposes:
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Record the results:
- Note what input methods were used, when, where and how many people participated for your council's records.
- Enter the date community input was gathered in Section 6 of the Annual Report to the MCC.
Review the responses:
- It can help to take the survey responses and create a summary report using graphs or charts to more easily
identify trends. See an example of a summary report. If you need help manipulating the data or creating graphs, email email@example.com.
- Convene council members to discuss what you have learned.
Create or update council priorities:
- If the council has priorities in place, review
them in light of community recommendations.
- If the council has not yet developed priorities, use community input information to
Share the results:
- Publicize the results in social media or on your web site. Share how they influenced the council's priorities.
- Post and the council's new priorities and promote them within the community and to applicants.
- Provide a copy of the community input results and the council's priorities to elected officials to show how your
LCC is serving the community.
Consider a council-initiated program:
If the community input surfaces an unmet community need, the council can utilize up to 15% of its state allocation on council-initiated programming
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