Community engagement ramps up for 2018
Michelle Leise began her career by asking questions.
As a writer for Meredith Corporation in Des Moines, Iowa, and editor for Minnesota Monthly's imprints Twin Cities Taste and Midwest Home & Garden, she lived a lifetime in the publishing world before returning to her hometown in 2002 to head a new startup called Live Healthy Red Wing.
"For me I'm always curious what someone thinks, what they want to know," Leise said. "There's always a reason behind what someone thinks.
"Asking questions is just a way to build relationships and really find out what people want."
In August 2017, Leise brought her curiosity to city government. She has been working as Red Wing's first community engagement specialist and since Day 1 has been engaged with well-known projects such as Innovation 2040 and the community survey. In many ways, she said, her work with Live Healthy Red Wing made the transition to city hall easy.
Strong social media presence
One surprising outcome of the community survey, she said, was learning how Red Wing engages online. Fifteen percent of Red Wing's residents report using social media to get municipal news, whereas residents in other cities report using social media far less, just 5 percent receiving city news online.
Communications Coordinator Melissa Hill manages the city's Facebook page and she and Leise partner on many projects, including videos and other social content to help share information about the city.
Where Leise's role departs from a typical communications role is in her ability to open the door for community input, find creative ways of engaging with the public and really listen to what citizens want. Then, she said, that information makes its way to council members and city staff to help inform decision-making.
"A lot of the time people (in City Hall) are just doing their jobs," Leise said. "We need someone who wakes up in the morning and says, 'How are we communicating with residents? How are we asking questions of residents?'
"If we have a project, or if there's something on a five-year plan ... how do we get their input early on in the process and not just later on?"
In January, Leise said she will propose that the city invest in a new interactive engagement tool called MetroQuest. This survey tool was reviewed by the Red Wing Citizen's Assembly last summer and that's when it came to Leise's attention.
MetroQuest goes beyond the normal radio button, yes/no questionnaire. It is marketed as public involvement software that offers a number of interactive tools — moving coins around to develop a budget, priority ranking, adjusting income sliders to build revenue — to help users visualize and simulate the decisions city staff are making day to day.
Leise hopes Red Wing's online community will be able to use this online tool to participate in discussions they're not able to attend in person. She also aims to make the tool available on an iPad that can mobilize with her to community events to get even more input. Traditional methods of communication, such as meetings and community discussions, are also in her plan for the future.
"Red wing has always been a community that comes forward," Leise said. "They usually show up. They care a lot. They have strong feelings."
The public can immediately get involved with Leise's work, starting next month. She and Hill aim to release a bi-weekly newsletter called City Beat starting in late winter/early spring. They're looking to get input from the public during January to decide what types of content to address. They are also working to redesign the city's website, due to relaunch May 2018.
Additionally, Lesie said, she's always looking for folks to join a Red Wing 2040 Action Team:
• Getting Around
• Public Safety
• Parks, Land Use, & the Built Environment
• Environmental Resilience
• Community Connections & Accessible Gov't
• Lifelong Learning
• Physical & Mental Health
• Arts & Culture
• The Economy
Leise encourages anyone interested in these upcoming conversations or decision making to contact her directly: