Sponsored Content by ICMA Strategic Partner, Zencity

Since 2010, the city of Scottsdale, Arizona has seen more General Obligation (GO) bonds being rejected at the ballot than being approved. By 2018, some of the city’s facilities and infrastructure had reached a critical point, as inspections exposed acute issues, including two bridges that needed to be replaced.

In order to be better positioned for a substantial 2019 bond package, the city needed to provide residents with reliable information that will allow them to make an informed decision.

At first, the city assembled a dedicated council sub-committee that was tasked with gathering and providing feedback on what projects residents are most interested in. In addition, city staff conducted open-houses and actively reached out to the community to present upcoming projects and gather resident feedback. These in-person meetings indicated there was overwhelming support, yet this feedback represented only a couple of hundred of highly engaged and active residents - a small sliver from a population of 240,000 people.

“When it came to putting together the bond package, there was a lot of mystery about what most people know, and what concerns they may have,” says Kelly Corsette, Scottsdale’s communications and public affairs director. “During bond elections, you end up with the “yeses” and the “nos” but you usually don’t know the “whys” behind them. Zencity, an ICMA strategic partner, helped us ‘give life’ and meaning to these numbers,” he continues.

How the Bond Passed  

The city wanted to understand what the greater majority of the community was saying - what critical questions needed to be answered, what misinformation and disinformation was circling around, and ultimately what would drive support and opposition to the bond.

Scottsdale began to assess online resident feedback through the Zencity platform and understand the effectiveness of their messaging on different channels.  As seen in the analysis below, data showed that over 93% of residents’ interactions regarding the bond package occurred on “unofficial channels” and that a high percent of the sentiment on these channels was negative. This indicated that further clarifications and factual coverage was necessary.

“The information we put out quickly started generating online conversations on official city channels but a great deal of conversation was happening on non-official (non city-owned) channels including local neighborhood and news pages. The Zencity platform captured that, which helped us understand the issues we should address,” says Kelly.

More importantly, the platform's AI capabilities of volume, source, and sentiment analysis helped the city detect channels and points of misinformation - incorrect rumors that were either based on assumptions, misunderstandings, or intentional misguidience driven by non-supporters.

By understanding what drove opposition (the “whys”) and what information residents were missing, the city of Scottsdale created an agile communications strategy including a thorough online Q&A sheet. In it, they provided objective and comprehensive information, directly addressing concerns that were voiced by residents. Messaging focused on the leading topics of interest that came up from the data, some of which the city has not previously considered focusing on, including a deeper dive into the transparency regarding the inner workings of city finances, as the insight provided below indicates.

Finally, the city of Scottsdale was able to address in real-time any questions or misunderstandings residents had. Going into the bond-election, the city substantially minimized the guesswork around how residents felt and designed a successful communications plan accordingly. This crucial bond package was approved at the ballot, supporting the future development of the city and improving the quality of life for its residents.

To learn more about the technology that the city of Scottsdale used to understand resident sentiment, visit https://zencity.io/solution/.


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