Our clients at the City of Portland’s Bureau of Planning & Sustainability came to us for help in shaping a city planning process that is anything but typical. For starters, the Portland Plan is a once in 30-year plan that will set the course for investment in Portland for the next three decades. In addition the City truly wants as much community input as possible, reaching beyond the “usual suspects.” Coates Kokes has been working fast and furiously with the City of Portland to engage its residents in this process that has just gotten underway.

When thinking about city planning, the image of a sassy grandmother shaking her finger doesn’t usually come to mind. But it was this kind of unusual visual approach combined with provocative language, such as “…Who gives a rip what you think?” that is bringing people’s attention to the cause.

In concert with our direct marketing and media relations efforts for the Portland Plan, social media is providing the backbone of the outreach effort. The social network and microblog platforms in Facebook and Twitter are allowing us to engage citizens who might otherwise be left out of the conversation. Specifically social media are being used to provide an opportunity for “lite” engagement, where people can give the City input in a context that is comfortable for them and where they provide more input than the City would have otherwise received. We also know from our work in behavior change that these lower-bar opportunities for engagement warm the audience up to more involved forms of civic participation—yes even stepping to the mic in a public meeting. Although the ultimate goal is to get Portlanders to attend one of the seven workshops, social media allows them to share insightful facts with friends, give some feedback within minutes and engage with the City in a whole new way.

The campaign kicked off with a news conference with Portland Mayor Sam Adams. The social media campaign has been launched and response so far has already been above expectations. Portlanders are giving their opinions, making suggestions and engaging with the Portland Plan on Twitter and Facebook in a way that the City has never seen with a process like this. The campaign is translating into civic action too, as the first workshop was attended by a standing room only crowd of engaged residents.