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Aspen upping its game in communicating with public

Citizens say they aren’t sure if their government is listening to them in the manner they want

The city of Aspen is working to build trust with the community and engage more with residents, which is the driving force behind the development of a strategic communications plan that is currently underway.

As one of Aspen City Council’s goals from last year, the city is trying to up its game in communications, as there has never been a formal plan in place.

The communications department has largely been comprised of one person but a couple of years ago a director position was created, which is currently held by Denise White, who oversees two communications managers.



Last year, the city hired Elevated Insights, a Colorado Springs-based marketing research firm for $10,900 to conduct an online citizen survey and eChat sessions as a starting point in the process.

With over 360 responses, White and her team now have a better understanding of how residents receive their information and what they want from the city.




“I appreciated how candid and honest people were and also acknowledging where they felt the city was doing a good job,” White said on Thursday. “But there were some nuggets in there that make us pause and think, ‘that’s something Aspen really needs, the Aspen way and culture and we need to listen to that.’”

The overwhelming majority of respondents of the survey said local newspapers are their No. 1 source of information when it comes to city matters.

That’s despite that the city’s website has over 2,760 pages and more than 50 social media accounts.

Very few of the respondents are aware of the city’s Aspen Community Voice online platform, which has 2,500 active accounts that seek feedback and input on specific projects and ideas, according to the survey results.

“While a vast amount of information exists and is distributed, our community generally remains unaware or struggles to locate the information they seek from the city,” White told council during a work session earlier this month. “Feedback provided also indicated that many community members think the city is better at sharing information than listening.

“Similarly, analysis shows that even when the city asks for input, participants are unsure how their input is used or if it makes a difference,” she continued. “Respondents also noted that transparency could be improved if the city shared the whole story, both the good and the bad.”

The communications strategic plan will address residents’ lack of clarity on how to engage with the city and have their voices heard.

“There’s some missing dots between what do we do with that, building that trust and transparency,” White said on Thursday.

Mayor Torre said during the May 4 work session that it’s an interesting tell that newspapers are residents’ main source of information, and the city should be able to disseminate directly and more effectively.

White said as the team and consultants peel back the layers on how the city communicates, there are some short-term priorities that need to be addressed.

The website needs to be more digestible and easy to navigate, she said.

“I struggle finding things and I work at the organization,” she told council.

A strategy needs to be designed for social media, and which channels serve which segments of the population.

And a framework around community engagement should be built, so the city is informing people by going to where they are instead of them trying to find information.

Internal and crisis communications also are part of the short-term priorities that council signed off on earlier this month.

Torre said he would like the city to be ahead of the news and informing citizens of what’s upcoming.

He also wants the city to focus on engaging people younger 30 years old and older than 55.

“I like what we are doing with communications holistically and it’s nice to have this attention to it,” he said. “It permeates everything we do.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

 


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