COLUMBIA — City officials hope to win a grant through the Bloomberg Philanthropies' Mayors Challenge to establish measurable strategies for engaging under-represented residents that could serve as models for other communities.
The first Mayors Challenge invited cities with 30,000 or more residents to submit innovative ideas for addressing major issues that face their cities and others. A total of 305 cities submitted proposals to compete for the $5 million grand prize and four $1 million runner-up prizes.
In November, Mayors Challenge judges will select 20 finalists to attend an Ideas Camp in New York City, where they will refine their ideas before submitting them again in January. Winners of the grants will be announced in the spring.
Columbia's application was assembled by Barbara Buffaloe, the city's sustainability manager, and Lelande Rehard, an MU graduate student and a fellow working with City Manager Mike Matthes. It proposes studying multiple ideas for making civic engagement easier for residents.
The application proposes creating a civic engagement lab. It describes the idea as innovative because of the city’s “willingness to experiment with new and old methods, systematically evaluate results and share them with everyone to tackle an inherently squishy and hard to define problem that plagues city councils, managers and mayors across the country."
Cities' applications will be judged on "boldness, strength of planning, potential for impact and replicability of the idea," according to the Mayors Challenge website.
Rehard said civic engagement is a national issue, but he hopes Columbia's approach will be unique because it will involve organizations outside local government, including MU, the Center on Government Performance, Regional Economic Development Inc. and various volunteer programs.
"Compared to many other cities, Columbia has a lot of engaged citizens," Rehard said. "What we feel now is that we're missing out on a lot of folks, a lot of voices. We now hear a lot of the same voices, which are welcome. But we're still missing out on the lower-income folks or people who have a family and a bunch of jobs that are too busy to come by and let us know what's going on."
MU hosted a TEDx event last spring. Keith Politte, TEDx memetic engineer, is coordinating a TEDxCoMo event on Oct. 13 at City Hall.
Politte said there are overlapping interests concerning purposeful engagement in civic projects between the Mayors Challenge and TEDxCoMo.
“The TED platform is a good way to provide enhanced dialogue around a host of interests to the community at large,” Politte said. “What we’re trying to do with the Mayors Challenge is ... increase citizen participation in the city. How do we get city hall out of city hall and into the neighborhoods?”
The city's ideal budget for increasing civic engagement totals $4.5 million, according to Columbia's application. That includes $1 million for project management, $1.25 million for research, $1.5 million for engagement ideas and $750,000 for disseminating information.
The project's time frame is three to seven years. The city describes in its application the positive impact the project could eventually have on future generations in Columbia.
"More children will see their parents, relatives, teachers and role models taking an active and enthusiastic role in their neighborhoods, schools and city government because the lab jump-started a process of performance-based engagement mechanisms that will be relevant and accessible to our citizens now and in the future."
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.