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Portland Engagement Project

Information
A photo of three people sitting on a concrete bench, talking. The right side of the photo is obscured by magenta gradient color. in the far bottom right corner are two overlapping white speech bubbles.
Civic Life is inviting all Portlanders to design a more equitable community engagement model to solve issues of today and into the future. A data-rich neighborhood map and facilitated community discussions will inform Portland's ability to pinpoint, prioritize and solve the root of civic issues.
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two logos side by side. the first logo has two overlapping magenta call out bubbles, underneath in the same color are the words "Portland Engagement Project". The next logo is the Office of Community and Civic Life

What is the Portland Engagement Project?

What do you do when you see an issue in your community that needs improvement? How about when you have an idea that would bring your neighbors and the government together to solve an issue? Do you know who to reach out to at the City of Portland and feel confident that it has a good process for engaging with your feedback? 

For some of us, the answer is a resounding “yes,” while for others, the City’s public engagement practice and trust between community and government is broken. 

The Portland Engagement Project (PEP) is designed to hear from all Portlanders, to learn how the City of Portland can build upon existing successful engagement practices and improve our civic processes. We need to examine the City of Portland's existing engagement framework because: 

  • Portland’s engagement model is 50 years old, and the City plans to build upon the existing framework through a transparent, public process that integrates today’s technology and engagement concepts.     
  • The 2020 census shows Portland has grown by 12% since 2010 and 70% since 1970, and our growing pains are evidenced by the issues we see today. 
  • Portland is growing rapidly and requires a resilient engagement structure that enables ALL Portlanders to be substantively engaged in the decisions that most impact their lives.  
  • The 2008 Community Connect Report and the 2035 Comprehensive Plan need our collective energy to ensure their success.

How will PEP work?

All Portlanders are invited to participate in this multi-year process. PEP is comprised of four components: 

1. ACTIVE LISTENING

Civic Life will host multi-year listening sessions with City employees and communities from all neighborhoods to gather input on how the City can build a better engagement structure to serve all Portlanders. 

2. DATA

Civic Life is working with Portland State University's Population Research Center to build a data-rich map that provides data by neighborhood (including details on race, language, food/housing security, etc.) to help us identify issues and create or modify programming to address them. In mid-2023, Civic Life will introduce this neighborhood data map tool to help sharpen our understanding of the unique changes and issues occurring within each neighborhood.   

3. SUMMIT

Civic Life is working with Portland State University's Center for Public Service and Oregon's Kitchen Table to host social scientists, local and national public engagement experts, and community builders to present their unique concepts and engagement models to Portlanders at a multi-day summit. 

4. DESIGN AND ENACTMENT

After the summit and active listening sessions, some themes and solution-oriented ideas will arise. Civic Life will summarize these themes and ideas from all listening sessions and the summit. These findings will be shared publicly and with City Council. It will be up to all of us to determine which engagement model or models the City should pursue.

What is the PEP result?

The intended result of these four components is to create an equitable community engagement model that will help the Portland community and Portland City government strengthen our relationship to solve issues today and into the future. 

A data-rich neighborhood map, the learnings from the summit, and facilitated community listening sessions will inform Portland's ability to build its engagement framework, so that we can come together to pinpoint, prioritize and solve the root of civic issues.

What data is PEP collecting and how will it be shared?

The key to engagement is understanding who lives, works, plays, and prays in Portland. PEP is currently working with Portland State University's Population Research Center to build an easy-to-use resource that provides demographic and other data by neighborhood. This project is important because the current demographic data about Portland is organized by “census blocks” and they do not correlate with the 94 established neighborhood boundaries in Portland.

The 2020 census result allowed Oregon to create a new congressional district (District 6) that includes parts of Southwest Portland, Salem, Woodburn, Yamhill County and Lake Oswego in Clackamas County. Like all congressional district boundaries, the communities outlined are diverse, vastly different and do not match city, county or other jurisdictional borders. The recently released 2020 census data shows that the Portland Metro Area is growing, but the census blocks are not able to specifically pinpoint which Portland neighborhoods have the most growth or compare data between Portland neighborhood boundaries.            

In July 2022, Civic Life introduced preliminary neighborhood data profiles. These profiles display data from the 2020 Census, the American Community Survey, Feeding America, CDC Social Vulnerability Index, Portlandness: A Cultural Atlas, and National Center for Health Statistics Life Expectancy Estimates. The preliminary profiles are one-page PDFs that are organized by neighborhood names and display data sets in a series of charts.  

From July to September 2022, Portlanders provided feedback to help Civic Life and PSU learn how to improve this tool.  

In mid-2023, these data points will be overlaid into an interactive and user-friendly map, which will include a query function for users to filter for the data relevant to their interests and will become an important tool to:

  • Help the City and our community partners improve outreach;  
  • Set programmatic priorities unique to each neighborhood;  
  • Help Portlanders in need; and 
  • Sharpen our understanding of the unique changes and issues occurring within each neighborhood.   

What feedback was collected on the preliminary Neighborhood Profiles? 

Once the neighborhood data profiles were introduced, Civic Life sent a series of emails to neighborhood associations, district coalition offices and community-based organizations inviting them to provide feedback to 94 data-rich neighborhood profiles. The first letter was sent on July 26, 2022, a second reminder was sent on Aug. 2, 2022, and a final letter extending the feedback deadline was sent on Sept. 9, 2022.

We are proud to share that more than 100 community-based organizations, neighborhood associations, individual community members, and government representatives provided feedback to inform the design and functionality of the data-rich profiles and interactive map. 

The top five most useful data points identified by the groups who studied the data were: 

  • Total number of households: 22% 
  • Language and nativity: 21% 
  • Number of housing units: 20% 
  • Neighborhood rankings: 19% 
  • Resident income earnings: 18% 

Many of the respondents saw great value in having this data, and shared that these profiles could be used to: 

  • Identify specific community needs and help direct engagement efforts. 
  • Support advocacy (via recent data and metrics) for neighborhood improvements. 
  • Support grant applications, including what programs to fund and how to conduct outreach. 

Respondents also left thoughtful comments. The most requested improvement was to simplify the data presentation, especially the ranking box in the upper right corner of each neighborhood profile.

In mid-2023, these data points will be overlaid into an interactive and user-friendly map, which will include a query function for users to filter for the data relevant to their interests.

How is PEP actively listening?

PEP began in the Summer 2022 by talking with City of Portland employees to learn how we are currently working with community. PEP created interactive sessions where employees were asked to provide feedback on how we can improve community engagement structures (to which City engagement programs), and what practices are working and which are in need of improvement.

Nearly 600 employees across 37 City of Portland bureaus and work teams provided ideas for engagement and bureau organization. In summary, seven reoccurring themes were identified for study and improvement. These themes are:  

  • Community Outreach 
  • Accessibility and Equity  
  • Process Improvement  
  • Engagement Tools  
  • Internal Roles and Structure 
  • Employee and Leadership Stability  
  • Community Responsiveness 

During our active listening, we consult with our existing and emerging civic leaders (including community organizations, neighborhood associations, employees, and individuals) to help inform the design of our public listening initiatives.  Similar to the questions posed to City employees, the external listening sessions will ask Portlanders to provide feedback on their existing relationship with the City of Portland: What is working? What needs improvement?   

The public listening sessions are slated to begin in early 2023.

How did you engage City employees?

Nearly 600 employees across the 37 City of Portland bureaus and work teams have participated in PEP so far. This included 570 participants submitting motions for change. 

A motion is an actionable idea for change. Non-actionable ideas were categorized as general feedback and not counted in the number of motions, but they remain in the data. To ensure transparency and accountability, motions required the creator’s name. Less than a dozen motions did not have a name and were eliminated from the data. 

  • Motions represent participants’ ideas for engagement and bureau organization.  
  • Motions were reviewed by peers, managers, and colleagues across the City.  
  • Motion creators had direct control of the language used to express their ideas, and no modifications were made to their motions except by them.  
  • No qualifying motions were cut.  
  • Motions are suggestions put forward by City employees for the enhancement of community engagement in Portland. They are not orders for action. 

The internal listening sessions feedback and motions were captured in this report: 

Why is PEP organizing a multi-day summit?

Listening to City of Portland employees and community members and creating a data-rich map tool to better understand the people who live in Portland will help to build a strong engagement process. It is equally important for this process to include engagement experts so that Portlanders can hear their ideas and learn about engagement practice case studies from other cities. We are working with PSU Center for Public Service/Oregon's Kitchen Table to design a mutli-year summit that will bring together thought leaders and practitioners in Portland and in other cities like ours. We also anticipate community members and representatives from our 94 neighborhood associations will participate in this summit in spring 2023.

What are the PEP's milestones and timeline?

In Spring 2021, City Council agreed there was a need and directed Civic Life to use budget savings to lead the citywide Portland Engagement Project (PEP) because City Council, employees, and Portlanders working within the existing engagement structure understand its complexity and share a desire to improve it.

Early 2023

The City will launch extensive listening sessions throughout Portland.

Spring 2023

The City and Portland State University/Oregon's Kitchen Table will host a summit that brings together thought leaders and practitioners in Portland and in other cities like ours to discuss public engagement practices.

Mid-2023

The City will host informational meetings to share a data-rich profiles by neighborhood to identify issues so that we can work together to directly address them. 

Who are our Partners? 

Pregame: Independent consultants will listen objectively to gather the best ideas from diverse groups and individuals throughout Portland. Pregame facilitated the employee listening. 

Portland Insights Survey: Important research, surveys, and studies are already happening. Rather than duplicating data presentation efforts, we’ll incorporate their findings into the design of the data-rich neighborhood profile map. 

PSU Population Research Center: Data-rich neighborhood profiles will help the City and our community partners improve outreach and services. 

PSU Center for Public Service/Oregon's Kitchen TableThe summit will bring together thought leaders and practitioners in Portland and in other cities like ours. We also anticipate community members and representatives from our 94 neighborhood associations will participate in this summit.

Citywide Equitable Engagement Group: Civic Life is working with The Centre for Public Impact (CPI), a nonprofit learning partner, to lead an equitable engagement practitioner cohort. Over the course of three months, 25 City of Portland practitioners from 13 City bureaus will consult with 25 community members. Cohort participants will learn from each other, share knowledge, and build relationships.

The Centre for Public Impact:  The Centre for Public Impactis a nonprofit consulting group who has worked with multiple cities across the world to help them implement engagement best practices.

Most Importantly - You: Each one of these activities will rely upon your insight and participation. Please visit this page often to find out how you can contribute and engage.

Proposed Scopes of Work from our Partners


Questions? Please contact civiclife@portlandoregon.gov