Community Engagement: How to Maximize Grant Outcomes
We examine how community engagement plays a role in the project development and grant funding evaluation process.
About the Speakers
Sedale Turbovsky, Co-Founder & CEO, OpenGrants
Sedale Turbovsky is the CEO and co-founder of OpenGrants, a venture-backed startup focused on building modern infrastructure for funding. He has been an entrepreneur since childhood. After honing his leadership skills as an outdoor guide in his younger years, he started his professional career as an independent consultant focused on delivering data products and digital strategies to enterprise clients in South America. He is experienced in independent grant writing and public/private partnerships at the highest level, having worked directly with OpenGrants’ current strategic partner, Momentum.
Christopher DuMont, CEO and Founder, Alpine Sustains
Chris is the CEO of Alpine Sustains, a social networking platform for community development that matches community members with projects. He has worked on community engagement and climate action initiatives with a focus on inclusiveness and holistic systems thinking. Some of his experience includes helping community boards in NYC find funding opportunities for small climate adaptation initiatives, working on climate and water issues at NGOs and the UN, as well as supporting a climate adaptation consulting firm on community-based climate resilience, climate migration and nature-based solutions.
All of his experiences included some form of stakeholder mapping and engagement and he always felt that not everyone was included in the discussion who should have been. As a concerned community member, he also tends to feel that it is often difficult to find and get involved in local community projects. So, he has taken his knowledge in holistic systems thinking and passion for ensuring that everyone should be easily included in their community’s development to build Alpine Sustains. Alpine Sustains is looking to publicly launch soon to give access, voice and empowerment to anyone wanting to make their community more sustainable.
Read the Transcription
Please note, this transcription is automatically generated and may contain some spelling and contextual errors.
Sedale Turbovsky: All right everybody. Welcome to the OpenGrants webinar on community engagement, how to maximize grant outcomes. Super excited to have our guest here, Chris DuMont, and really excited to dive into it. We’re gonna let people trickle in for a little bit. But while that’s happening, just a little bit of housekeeping for everyone who’s here.
First of all, this is the community engagement, how to maximize ground out outcomes webinar with OpenGrants. My name is Sedale Turbovsky. I’m the CEO and co-founder here at OpenGrants, and we are the easy way to win grant funding. So super excited to dive in as folks come into the room. Please be aware that that you will be able to submit any of your questions in the q and a.
We will have a recording of this available afterwards. We’ll also post it on YouTube and on our blog. So if you have registered and you happen to have to leave early or whatnot, number fear, we’ll take all this wonderful content and information. We’ll package it all up and we’ll email it out to everyone.
So, Really excited to have y’all here. And I am going to give it a couple more seconds here to let folks [00:01:00] join. And then we’ll get into the bulk of the content here. But just as a, high level We are my myself, I am the founder and CEO of OpenGrants. Super excited to be here. And Chris DuMont joins us from Alpine Sustains.
And Chris, I’m just gonna go ahead and let you give a little bit of your background and your awesome level of expertise and and then we’ll dive into a conversation here.
Christopher DuMont: Thanks a lot, Sedale. Super happy to be here. Very excited to talk about community engagement.
Really passionate about it. I’ve done community engagement, stakeholder mapping at very local levels, helping out community boards in New York cities to global levels working with the United Nations and doing some stakeholder mapping there, as well as with the International Modern Management Institute.
And what I’ve discovered in community engagement and in stakeholder mapping is that is an incredibly time. Costly process. It costs a lot of time, it costs a lot of resources. I always feel that not everyone is actually involved in the conversation that really [00:02:00] should be to maximize co-benefits for a project and also to get people involved that might be negatively impacted a project.
And it was from that kind of understanding that I started looking into developing algorithms and methodologies of, who should be involved in a community project, who’s relevant, and then what’s the best way to, to approach them. And so from there, I am developing Alpine sustains, and that’s a social network for community development, which matches community members and organizations to relevant projects that they might be impacted by.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. That’s so cool. So let’s get into it. I think from a high level, and this is, I think my level of understanding of what community engagement is mostly based on, I dunno if you ever saw the show Parks and Rec, do you know how like she would have those like really contentious meetings where the public would show up and just yell at the people from government.
That’s a little bit more than that, but can you define for everyone who’s listening, can you define what is community engagement? [00:03:00] What does that mean? From like a first principles basis, if you could start with that.
Christopher DuMont: Sure. For me, community engagement is anyone within a certain radius of a project.
It doesn’t have to necessarily be within three blocks. It could be within an entire 10 block radius. It doesn’t really matter. But community engagement is getting all of the relevant stakeholders. That are impacted by a project in a room or on a platform to be able to give their voice to anything that’s going on, to have transparency from project managers to to their community, and then anyone from their community to be able to say, Hey, I don’t like this idea.
I geo this idea. We buy into this project, you should go forward. When community engagement doesn’t have those, like two very core principles of transparency and proper engagement, you get things like in New York City, in the Lower East Side, for example, there was a really big flood resilience project.
And what ended up happening was they didn’t engage with all of the right [00:04:00] community members and they went up, they went forward with construction. And then once the community, which had about 110,000 impacted people realized that the seawall wasn’t looking the way that they really, they would prefer like other parts of Manhattan or.
The project was actually gonna destroy a very historical part that was very important to that community. They actually had to put a pause on the project as they did that community engagement wrong. So those two principles, transparency involving all the right people and actually communicating what’s going on to them early in the process and throughout the process.
Sedale Turbovsky: No, that seems seems really important. I’m sure it was not only a costly mistake from a time standpoint, but I’m sure money and capital was also put at risk or, potentially wasted in a really significant way. That sounds, really important.
So from a high level Obviously grant funding is leveraged frequently in these sort of public projects where there’s infrastructure being built or there’s improvements being made, or there’s [00:05:00] programs being put on the ground to do things like, how’s the homeless or feed people or support, underserved populations, that kind of thing.
And community engagement holistically, make sure we’re involving all the right people and the public. But it sounds fairly complex. I would love to hear your thoughts on just we’ve got a use case here or a case study here that you’ve presented where it went wrong.
Maybe an example. Can you give an example of like where it went and then maybe pull out some of the things that were done correctly to make sure that happened the right way.
Christopher DuMont: Yeah, sure. There was a, so a project in New York City that went right, that is very, It’s pretty relevant to that one.
It’s called the Big U. I’m not sure if people are familiar with that, but they did a lot of community engagement. It costs, it was a very long drawn out process involving many different stakeholders. There are plenty of community board meetings with it and there was a lot of community buy-in. I don’t actually remember any friction during that process after Sandy, [00:06:00] where community members were like, no, we don’t want the Big U.
Just, it doesn’t look right. They really talked to many different stakeholders that, and we can get a little bit more deeper into this later. Would add co-benefits. So it’s not just a seawall. The big U had nature-based solutions, which biodiversity, open access to waterfronts, those kind of things. And it was thinking about involving those stakeholders and those types of topics in that project that I think made it successful and allowed a lot of community buy-in for that type of project, which is similar to a project that failed.
And I think that’s because they didn’t involve enough community members and the right community members as well, who would really want to have certain things like making sure that the historic park stayed there.
Sedale Turbovsky: Very cool. So it sounds like, for this to go you need a couple things. One is understanding like who all the stakeholders are who might be impacted by a project, which I imagine could be fairly difficult.
In particular if you have a, a project that is, big infrastructure project [00:07:00] and maybe there’s a lot of people involved or maybe a lot of people in the area. What what advice, so let’s start with that and then we can talk about transparency and then we can talk about communication.
Let’s start with stakeholder mapping. How do you even go about understanding who the stakeholders are that are gonna be impacted by your project? Are there tools for this? Is there a methodology that you would suggest?
Christopher DuMont: Yeah, so there are different ways of going about it. There are processes that have been used by urban finances for a really long time. Power mapping, influence mapping, trying to determine who the right stakeholders are. How I go about it is a little bit differently. And it’s more trying to figure out if they’re going to be impacted, not necessarily they’re influence levels because then I feel like you might end up neglecting certain people that really wanted to be a part of that conversation.
So how I go about it is determining the different, think about topics that fit into co-benefits of the project. So for the [00:08:00] Big U for example, if you add nature-based solutions, you have co-benefits of open access, you have co-benefit of biodiversity if you do the project right. And then you have certain possible negative externalities that might arise to.
And then from deciding what topics fit under those two columns, you figure out who are the stakeholders. So if it’s open access to the waterfront, you’re gonna wanna talk to d o t in New York City, the Department of Transportation. If it’s open access, maybe you wanna include bike lanes, for example, that’s maximizing co benefits.
You’re including you’re improving the public health. And then maybe you wanna also talk to coalitions that deal with the elderly, making sure that they have a voice in deciding okay, maybe for the Biggie project, we wanna have a lot of benches because we wanna make sure the elderly people feel it.
They are included in this, in that this new massive infrastructure project also benefits elderly persons. On the negative externality side, you might wanna [00:09:00] think of, if we’re talking flood resilience if it’s a sea wall, water’s gotta go somewhere. There’s gonna be negative externalities to neighboring communities.
If the flood wall is built incorrectly, which has happened in, in, in New York City especially like in the two bridges, lower East Side area. And what ended up happening was those stakeholders who had those negative externalities hit them, they weren’t aware of the project cuz it wasn’t necessarily within their within their neighborhood.
So it’s taking those topics and then figuring out what stakeholders fit within those topics, then having that conversation.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. That was a great breakdown on kind of a methodology and I love that you are optimizing around, instead of influence, which I do think frequently leave leaves out different like community benefit orgs and other groups that maybe don’t have influence, but just thinking about impacts I think is really important.
Are there any Any suggestions you have. So it sounded and the lens that you are taking on this is a lot of kind of the government or like urban planner scope. [00:10:00] Any thoughts on how you like to see folks engage who maybe are driving the project from the private sector? So I know on this call there’s like government folks, but there’s probably also entrepreneurs and other groups who are interested in, potentially partnering with government and maybe interested in like how to best broach this topic with like city planners or other groups who are interested in, or stakeholders in their projects.
Thoughts on that. Like how could, how does private sector best engage with the public sector when we talk about these, projects that are impacting public spaces or indeed maybe like a public good.
Christopher DuMont: Yeah, a hundred percent. So there were some people that were doing projects on my MVP for Alpine sustains a kayaking project.
For example, and they wanted to know the community members of that might be impacted, the topics that they should think about, the coalitions that the organizations that they should talk to. And for the private sector, I think they should use the same exact approach. If you’re gonna be working with the city of city government officials, if there’s an [00:11:00] impact on a neighborhood, which every private project there is an impact on the community in some way or another, and it’s just mapping out who is gonna receive cobes, how can we make the, how can we realize those code benefits and are there any potential negative externalities?
So with that kayaking example, maybe for some reason there’s added pollution because of their project, they should figure out who downstream might be impacted by that, and then reach out to them, not just involving people within the local community right next to the kayaking project. Oh, hey, what do you guys think about this?
And they say, oh, that’s great. We have recreational tourism. So if you’re in the private sector, I think you should still go about it using the same type of methodology of who’s this still gonna impact? How can I minimize those impacts? How can I realize any co-benefits or the partners to go about that co-benefit?
And I think if you’re any type of startup or if you wanna engage with the city, apply for grants, let them know, Hey, we want to, do this [00:12:00] project and we wanna partner with you. We also found out we have these other partners that will make this project even more awesome. We just need funding to reach out to them and get that engagement process going.
And we understand that we have these negative externalities, whether it’s a flood wall causing water to go with the neighboring neighborhoods, or it’s the kayaking project to add pollution to neighbor neighborhoods downstream. Let the government know if you’re gonna partner with them. And if you’re not partnering with the government, still have the understanding of what your project is gonna do.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. No, that’s great advice. I I really appreciate the last bit that you mentioned, which is, request funding in your grant application to do these things. That’s something super important that I think people forget sometimes, but it’s actually made, and I know in spec, very specific instances, it’s made projects that I’ve worked on, not only more attractive and more successful.
but it’s also made them more fundable. Like the agencies and other groups are interested. If you’ve included a section saying, Hey, there’s this planning phase that we need to fund for, that involves community [00:13:00] engagement, that involves, activation of certain leaders and other groups within the community.
That’s something that’s super important and that agencies love to see happen. And in fact, sometimes you’ll even get points for writing that strategy a certain way and being really effective in execution. So I just wanna highlight that. Remember that when you’re building out your budgets whether you be, a government agency or a private sector company, you should be budgeting for this.
There’s specialists that do this kind of thing. You can obviously fund, a position within your own organization, but there’s also groups that, help support this. And I think that’s the last point that we’ll touch on. And then we’ll move on to transparency and communication real quick.
But who does this? Who does this kinda work? Are there I know there’s consultants I know obviously you have Alpine sustains and I’d love to hear a little bit about that and why you built it, but what kind of things should people be looking for? Is this something that like you should just yolo in and try to do it yourself?
Should you should you get a professional who are the people you look for to make community engagement happen the right way?
Christopher DuMont: There are, [00:14:00] the only way that I know from my experience is yeah, consulting firms that specialize in community engagement. There aren’t that many tools out there necessarily that kind of automate that process in a way or give you guidance on, oh, this is the per, these are the people that you should talk to.
You can read research papers on it. But I’ll be honest, with community engagement Field, urban planning field and how this goes about and how people go about it. It’s very stuck in the past. If I can I mean you could just think about, your own neighborhood. How many times are you updated with a project that’s going on or does a bike later bus stop just pop up and you’re just like, oh, okay.
I guess that’s a thing now and don’t really talk to you about it. About it. Oh, and dotting back to what you said about budgeting for community engagement. It is incredibly expensive. And there was actually an urban planner that I talked to in Boston where they delayed a project because they couldn’t get funding for community engagement [00:15:00] and actually talk to the relevant stakeholders.
So please budget that. If you’re gonna go do a project in a community that’s gonna impact a lot of people.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. Yeah. Thank you for that insight. One thing I just wanna mention to everyone listening appreciate y’all being here. Please do drop in your questions to the q and a. We will guard off some time at the end here to answer those.
So if you do have questions, pop ’em in there. So we’ve covered, community engagement, starting with stakeholder mapping, understanding who’s involved. Probably a good idea to get somebody to do this professionally. If you if it’s not like a core skill of yours or of your organizations.
And definitely it’s something that not only is good to budget for, but you And it’s also something that can make your grant application more competitive because it does optimize for positive, good outcomes at the end of your project. So it’s something that agencies wanna see and certainly something that you should be thinking about when you’re developing a project.
So please do put that on their radar if it’s not there yet. Let’s talk a little bit stakeholder mapping. We’ve dived into that. Let’s [00:16:00] talk a little bit about, transparency and communication, which I think go hand in hand. But yeah, I would love to hear your thoughts on not only, what does that look like when it’s done but what what things should folks be considering when they’re trying to do this the right way or trying to support, a consulting firm doing it the right way.
Are there some best practices, some thoughts you have on, how to engage in, one being really transparent and two, making sure that you’re actually communicating with folks and not just like screaming into the void. Because one thing I see a lot, for example are agencies that will say, Hey, we’re doing this project, and then like, nobody, nobody nobody listens to the local government.
I, I feel like there’s a part of this that’s Hey, did you reach out? But there’s another part of, it’s like people don’t care and they don’t pay attention. .
Christopher DuMont: Yeah. You’re a hundred percent about the latter part. A lot of community members don’t care until it really impacts them. They’re like, Oh, those parking spots are gone.
There’s a bike lane. Now. I wish I was a, at least a part of that conversation for a brief moment. And that’s because that’s transparency [00:17:00] done wrong and we’ll get to Alpine sustains it a bit. But there, like, when it comes to transparency and community engagement, this is where I really feel the urban planning field and anyone else doing community engagement, it’s, again, it’s a little bit before the digital age.
A lot of, if you wanna get your voice heard, if you wanna be a part of that conversation for a project, you have to go to a community board meeting. And like you kinda said about the parks and rec thing, a lot of people just mad yelling at the the government official. But what if you don’t have time to go to the community board meeting, but you really care about getting involved in your community?
You don’t necessarily have an outlet for that. And one of the reasons why I developed Alpine sustains in the way that I did was my brother, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with like hurricane Ida. I think he got stuck out in the street and there was a flood. He got in safely and everything’s fine.
But he came in and he asked me, Hey, there’s a river on our street. [00:18:00] What is our neighborhood doing to solve to do flood resilience? I’m like, dude, I have no idea. I’ve never been updated about anything. Let me just go check really quick. And I couldn’t find any flood resilience projects at least easily.
And if I had, would I even have any type of outlet to voice my opinion to say, Hey, really we really want this done in this way. There’s no place to really do that unless I go to a community board meeting and then I gotta be free at six o’clock on a certain day of the month. So that’s, I think transparency is just done really.
Wrong. And it’s, I think it’s just because it’s incredibly expensive to do this type of community engagement. I think there’s a really good community engagement tool. I think it’s called Citizen Lab. And what this organization does is they develop portals for governments so that community members can go to these portals and then see all the products that are going on and then voice their opinion in some way.
[00:19:00] So I think that’s transparency done right, is just digitized the process. Everyone is on Facebook or any type of other social network. Why not make a social network for your projects that are going around in your neighborhood and get most people involved? Cause a lot of people do care. Yes, we talk about the ones that don’t, but the ones that do, they deserve to have their voice heard in the process.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. Yeah, no , I think that there’s there’s opportunities and one thing I’d love to say is I think there’s a lot of opportunities to improve improve the digi digitization of a lot of this information that’s ongoing. And if you’re in government, there’s some solutions.
And if you’re outside of government, maybe you know, voice at least that opinion that. We would like to be involved. Let’s, let’s get some more tools in place or things in place to, to help us be aware of what’s going on. The other thing that I’ve found though is that, if you do want to be engaged in particular, if you happen to be like a private company and maybe you have a little more flexibility or agility government can, will frequently be appreciative of your efforts to [00:20:00] socialize projects to the community.
And you can be a good partner and this can be once again, something that you can budget for. And it’s actually something I saw budgeted for frequently on projects I worked on where we said, Hey look, we’re gonna use this. Sometimes there’s budgets for things like technology transfer which classically is understood to be spinning tech out of a university or some lab.
There’s opportunities to expand that to say, Hey, let’s make the public aware. Of this thing that’s happening. And so I think we can be effective partners in the private sector. We can be effective partners for government by saying, Hey, maybe you don’t have the infrastructure, or you don’t have the time to procure a solution from Citizen Lab or figure out your Twitter, presence or whatever.
Maybe something that would be useful is, letting us do that and let’s just ask for some more money to make that move forward. So I think, that transparency thing is something that as private entities in particular, if you’re working on a grant funded project budget for that.
Once again, like you when you’re building these projects and your budgets in particular Like you are the master of your own [00:21:00] destiny. Like you’re the one who requested that amount of money to do those specific things. It wasn’t the government saying that you needed to take that amount of money to do specific things.
So be sure to be sure to take advantage of that. Spell that out. So I think that’s great advice. Chris, digitize it, make it accessible. Put it where, you brought up Facebook and Twitter or social media networks. I think maybe not Twitter specifically, I love, do o e has a great, there’s even officials from D Oe who are pretty active on Twitter, always enjoy following them.
And if the stuff you care about, then you can engage that way. And I think that local government and other groups can take note of that as well. But so transparency. And I think hand in hand goes communication. What kind of like strategies have you seen? And just talk a little bit just about like sensitivity and like signal to noise kinds of things.
What kind of strategies have you seen function well for, communication? You talked about citizen lab. Any other like really good examples of like communication and transparency done well by government or by like project builders and developers? [00:22:00]
Christopher DuMont: Honestly, out outside of, so Citizen Lab is one of the few digital agencies that I’ve seen be able to do this pretty well.
But transparency in having a surveyor or like a canvas, like an urban planner go out and just talk to people on sidewalks has been the only time that I’ve ever been engaged in any type of. Community Project un, unfortunately. So I can’t really think of things done really well. The United Nations, they, they do stuff well in developing countries, but they have very, they have massive budgets for those things.
Whereas local governments don’t necessarily ha have that. like you mentioned, being able to follow doe on, on on social media to get updates from them. I get my updates, if anything on my co like from colleagues on LinkedIn oh, I just, finished up this project and that’s how I find out something happened somewhere in, in New York quickly, , which is a great way to find out, oh, I [00:23:00] would’ve loved that guy.
I love that guy stuff, but I couldn’t, unfortunately.
Sedale Turbovsky: Yeah I get that. I think I like the last the other note that you brought up is just like people on the ground getting involved. That’s something else that I think is discounted a bit or just like budgeted for enough within these projects.
One of the most effective programs I’ve seen is the California Endowment. They have incredible grant programs and they put boots on the ground in the communities from day one to do work and, from the agency them, from, not the agency, but from the from the endowment themselves.
And I think it’s such a great model because there’s actually human beings doing things with human beings. And in our world of increasing digitization, right? There is a, there’s a thing in terms of scale that we’re always solving for, but there’s also. Just a deeply qualitative human aspect to project development and engagement that you do have to like kind of budget for.
And I think you have to get okay with this is expensive. It’s a long process and in our world where we’re just always trying to go there’s a reason some [00:24:00] of these things take time and it’s because we don’t wanna leave people out and we want people to be engaged and be part of the process.
And so there just needs to be an awareness that like, hey, you’re not gonna get this done overnight. It’s gonna be it’s gonna take time and, but it will deliver this like outsized benefit to the community if you do it the right way. And ultimately I think it also saves you saves you money.
Like in the seawall case, I bet they wish they’d done community engagement the right way. And I’m sure there’s, I’m personally familiar with a few other projects where we, I’ve seen, I won’t name the agencies, but I’ve seen folks, lose, just put like billions of doll, not billions, millions of dollars down the toilet.
Like just flush it away. Because they, forgot a few key things that they probably should have remembered to do.
Christopher DuMont: Yeah, no, that, that sucks. Yeah. Doing community engagement wrong and then not getting the community buy-in or approval from the government to take the next step in your project cuz you got things wrong.
That is so costly. And on the digitization point I don’t think there’s any replacement from human to human contacts. For [00:25:00] people that might not have access to the internet and or communities. We all talk about justice, the justice 40 requirements. Some people in the grant ecosystem might know about that Biden administration.
It’s super important to still find a way to include those people. So it’s definitely not going a hundred percent digital, but going digital does allow you to include more people. And but you can’t just replace that. It’s not a hundred percent digital digitalization. I would love to be able to go to my community at six o’clock on a Wednesday in the middle of the month, but if I can’t, I still feel like I need access to be able to have my voice heard somewhere.
Sedale Turbovsky: Yeah, no, I think it you bring up another great point that we, for that, you know, especially if you live in the tech bubble you forget that hey, not everyone has access to internet. Not everyone has access to all these services. Not everyone has time. Like going out and being in your community is really important.
And so you wanna budget and mobilize for that, to optimize those outcomes. For sure.
Christopher DuMont: One last point on this, Boston Urban [00:26:00] Planning, urban Planners there, they have a great system for stakeholder mapping and keeping that process pretty dynamic and to save themselves resources. They work with a bunch of different advocacy groups.
Within like those categories that I mentioned. So like co-benefits on like an urban park for elderly people. They’ll have coalitions that they can reach out to at a focal point, Hey, we’re doing a project that we think might benefit elderly persons within this community. Can you do the outreach for us?
And that’s also a really great way to save money from the private sector. You wanna do a community project, partner up with advocacy groups in, in some way to save yourself on some budget, but make sure that you’re doing that community engagement properly.
Sedale Turbovsky: I love that you brought that up because I think a big part of a big part of.
Some of the Justice 40 initiative as well as just, I think winning strategies in the grant funding space involves developing strong partnerships and leveraging those. And you should be aware, I think, [00:27:00] be be aware enough, like self-aware enough as an organization when you know you have a whole in your like awareness or knowledge or capabilities to engage with certain communities when maybe there’s a lack of trust based on just systemic barriers that have been in place for many years that you didn’t necessarily cause.
And a huge proponent myself, and I think it is just wise in general, work with experts, right? We already talked about hey, bring in a consultant who knows this space. Bring in community organizations that know their space and, do your best to stay in your lane and find experts who understand theirs and bring them together to bring some efficiency to your community engagement strategy.
I think that’s wonderful advice. On that note there’s a few great questions here in the q and a. So we’ll throw we’ll dive into these a little bit. Please feel free, folks on the, on who are listening in to, to, throw in more. But let’s get into this real quick and just talk a little bit.
I think one of the first ones here is really good and goes back to one of the things we’re talking about. But a question here is just like, how many times should you reach [00:28:00] out or attempt to meet with stakeholders to show you’re interested in their opinion? Thoughts on that ?
Christopher DuMont: Like how many If I was in a community engagement project, I reach out to a stakeholder I thought would be relevant and they didn’t show much interest.
Sedale Turbovsky: Yeah. Or if they just don’t get back to you or whatever. Yeah. Oh, all the time.
Christopher DuMont: That’s, that was 90% of my experience when I was doing a project.
We were working with farmers to deal with drought. There’s a really bad drought that was hitting the area and there were a bunch of different types of stakeholders that we could get involved with. And some of them were government, obviously it’s just the agriculture sector. We needed their involvement with this.
We would reach out to them and they’d be like, eh, yeah, do your little project or whatever. Or if it was farmers, they would be like, yeah, we’re fine. We’re doing the job ourselves. Or they just literally never get back to us. So I would say that community engagement aspect, after all the hard work of stakeholder mapping getting [00:29:00] rejections or something like along those lines of just not no response, you should expect most people to be that way.
Sedale Turbovsky: Do you follow up if they don’t get back? Do you like run like in marketing, right? We like, we’ll run like a sequence of emails, right? We’ll send five or whatever. Is there like a standard kind of follow up that you would suggest? Or is it just hey, do your best and then you know, it is what it is?
Christopher DuMont: Yeah, so when I was in Accra and also when I was doing some work in New York City with the community boards, yeah, you gotta follow up several times. I think in marketing it’s seven or nine times until someone actually gets back to you. To make a sale. I guess the same approach could be the same.
Again, you really want input from the stakeholder cuz you map them out to be someone who’s important for this project. So I don’t think you should give up after two, three times, but you should change the messaging. Maybe make it a little bit more personal, maybe in the beginning. From my [00:30:00] experience at Accra, it was, Hey, this is a project that’s happening, so I might be interested.
Then over time, and this is actually how I got more feedback, was making it more personal and how that project would impact them. So it was with the farmers. We were doing this really cool, innovative fecal sludge thing that would help their crops during drought. And we’d be like, no, this will help you save X amount on your yield.
Making it more personal, making them see the co-benefits of a project. That’s when they started responding. So it’s definitely not enough to go about your community engagement, just being like, there’s a project you should get involved here. You’re not gonna get a good response.
Sedale Turbovsky: Yeah. Awesome. Another question more here about budgeting.
This this individual, she says, I’m new to the community engagement role. I know what I should do, but not sure how to put it all in a budget. Any like high level thoughts around just building the budget out for community engagement?
Christopher DuMont: Okay. So I [00:31:00] think you would wanna look at some metrics and also how the community already engages with similar types of projects.
Then you could determine how many hours you need to spend, what that budget is to your team, how many people that you need. your project require workshops, which is also additional budget or if you could partner with people, does that decrease your budget a little bit? Does that save you hours, but increases other people’s hours.
It’s very complicated. I think it’s incredibly contextual. I think you as this community engagement professional question, you know your community best. Are there a lot of people going to that community board meeting where if you go to a community board meeting, you’ve reached a decent portion of the people that you need to speak to?
Or do you find that there’s only 10 people there and you need to hit the pavement and knock on doors to do your community engagement? It’s all incredibly contextual. Again, there are places like Citizen Lab out there that decrease the cost a [00:32:00] lot to you to the community engagement professional.
But other than that, yeah, it’s just allocating how many people do you need to reach? How many hours is that gonna take? How many people is that? Will that end up taking?
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. Great stuff. Good. Another question here. For small business entrepreneurs applying for grants, what verbiage should you include when applying to implement funds for, the greater good of the community?
How important in detail how important is the detail that you include? And I’ll tackle a little bit of that first just to say that definitely like having a good detailed strategy is important. It’s also gonna be dependent on you probably have some word, like actual, like limitations in your application on like how to, what you get to tell of that story.
Important to speak to outcomes and high level like definitions of tasks. Chris mentioned like workshops, say workshops, X amount, that kind of thing. But yeah. Chris, I’d love to hear your thoughts on is there any language that folks should use that agencies or other groups understand?
Better or like any specific terms that like triggering in this industry? I [00:33:00] don’t know. I don’t know if it, it’s a good question or a bad question, but I’ll throw it your way.
Christopher DuMont: Yeah, sure. So I don’t have as much experience writing brands. I’m just, I tended to be a part of them and review them.
But I think really mentioning these are the co-benefits to these different stakeholders and we understand that if you get this project done, say you’re doing a conservation project and you’re like, Hey, this will also, increase biodiversity or also reduce air pollution, which is one of the Justice 40 requirements, you can apply to 40 grant if you can say that.
And then also saying these are the negative externalities. I think it’s whoever’s reading that grant, being able to understand that you know exactly what you’re doing, who to reach out to your strategy is solid, every single impact of your project. I think that would be, Best way to go about verbiage in a way is not just saying, Hey, I’m doing this project.
It re it adds trees to the neighborhood. You think it would be cool because we already got a little bit of community buy-in, [00:34:00] go to the extra steps, say, hey, these are like primary stakeholders that would be impacted secondary stakeholders. So a conference conservation project like at Urban Park for example, that’s gonna add shade, it’s gonna decrease the heat effect, for example.
But you’re also gonna add biodiversity, elderly person during heat wave and go there as a more, as a safer place during a heat wave. So being able to explain those things concisely I think would be.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. Yeah I totally agree on, especially on the sort of explain those impacts concisely.
Really important to be super clear. Just be aware that like the folks reviewing the grant are not going to necessarily understand the nuances specifically of what you’re doing, but they will, they’ll understand, oh, this provides, in addition to doing X, Y, and z like core things. It provides shade and it improves biodiversity.
They’ll understand those things. But try not to get too technical, be clear, be, short to the point at the same time. Great. Another great [00:35:00] question here. Is there any good practice you recommend perhaps in the pre-engagement stage that would better inform and prepare the community for meaningful consultation?
I assume, like how can you prep them to give you good feedback that would really, be useful.
Christopher DuMont: Maybe you can tell them just, Hey, this is the feedback that we’re looking for. I know with Citizen Lab, for example, they have like up votes on projects and stuff. So like they tailor the tool in a way that helps them evaluate feedback from the community in a pretty proper way.
If you don’t have a digital tool like that, I think organizing workshops and then asking for specific feedback from community members or stakeholders during that workshop is just the right approach. I think just being honest. Cause you don’t wanna have a workshop then everyone leave and then you’re scrambling with your team to be like, this person said that, did, do we think they like the product?
I have no idea. You think we should ? You’re like, [00:36:00] I don’t There are survey tools out there that urban planners use all the time to, to do things like that. So I definitely look into that.
Sedale Turbovsky: Yeah, just to to drill down on that a little bit you mentioned survey tools. You mentioned asking specific questions, which I personally think that’s like one of the key things is like, be really specific in what you want.
One of the things that I know as an entrepreneur and just like having, been in this space for a while is people, you may, because you’re thinking about a project a lot, you. You make a lot of assumptions when you’re communicating to people about how much they’re thinking about the project.
And in many cases they’re thinking about the project, not at all . Like they’re just there cuz you asked them to, maybe they had some time, but they have not thought about your project at all. And they certainly aren’t thinking about these knock on like secondary benefits or negative impacts and externalities.
So don’t just expect people to like, have thought through your project, cuz I guarantee they haven’t. They have a lot of other things going on in their lives. This happens to be your full-time job, but it’s not theirs. I think that’s super important, just asking those specific questions. I do wanna drill [00:37:00] down.
You said there’s some survey tools. Any like specific ones that you should just wanna throw out there that people use that could be useful for this process?
Christopher DuMont: From my experience to spend survey tools that they develop themselves When I was in Ghana when I did some urban planning projects in New York, they were people just yeah, they developed their own questions with no-code tools a actually and they would invest in those survey tools and then yeah that’s what they would use.
There aren’t any like survey monthly, like there are generalists survey tools out there to get the feedback that you might be looking for. But from my experience, people have developed their own tools and that’s probably because the organizations that I did use survey tools with they’re much larger, so they have the funding to do that kinda.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. No, I think that’s great now, yeah I think most folks on the call will be familiar with, things like SurveyMonkey and Qualtrics, Google forms. There’s a lot of ways to collect feedback from people from a tool standpoint, but I, it is much more important, a as with I think anything [00:38:00] digital, the content is really the point, right?
Like you need to get good responses back. So be clear in the questions you’re answering or the questions you’re asking. Alright, another great question here, and I think this is something that I think a lot of private sector folks experience a lot, so I’m excited. Chris, I’ll get your take on this first and then I’ll dive into it a little bit as well.
But this individual says after reaching out to the city manager, economic development officials, the mayor for assistance with a supermarket and fueling station and a few food insecure community who else should I seek assistance from on the local level? I think that, Maybe another way to frame this question is like, how do you find champions within government that are interested in partnering with private sector, like bringing these projects forward?
At the very beginning, before you get to the community engagement part, there has to be, a project that wants to happen. I’d love to hear your thoughts on just like your feedback, you know, having been within these orgs. What’s the best way for private folks entrepreneurs, industry in general to engage and get like government initially excited about a project to support the [00:39:00] community?
Christopher DuMont: Yeah, sure. So I think it would be going to urban planners. Maybe it’s not this, the mayor’s office because they have a whole bunch of other stuff other than like very specific community project that they have to deal with. So go to an urban planner that deals within your. Neighborhood that you’re friendly with.
And if for whatever reason that doesn’t work because maybe you’re in a smaller city than New York and they don’t really have the capacity to, email everybody back, find out whoever is any type of coalition or organization that works with food insecure persons or just that issue in general in that neighborhood, reach out to that advocacy group.
Be like, Hey, I’m trying to do this project. Can you be, a voice for me to the government? And then if that doesn’t work, build a larger coalition. Get people that aren’t just dealing with like food insecurity, but maybe they’re also dealing with homelessness. Get food banks on your side, reach out to leaders of, for food [00:40:00] banks.
And then once you have 10 solid voices it’ll be very difficult for this city just to be like, yeah, we’re gonna continue to keep ignoring. Because now you have a bunch of advocacy groups, private sector and public sector on one issue saying, we want this project to happen. It’s important.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome.
That’s great advice. I think another thing to add on here is you maybe maybe just to drill down, in fact on something Chris alluded to, which is that sometimes when you approach someone like the city manager, once again, it’s not their job and they’re not thinking about it.
There might be someone within government whose job is to be thinking about this issue, and if so, seek them out. Urban planners a good idea. The other thing is you may wanna reach out to whoever the representative is for, like in congress for that area. Their office frequently because it, they deal more with the constituents issues.
Their office might be more responsive. But frequently what we find is when you go off to engage with government as a partner it’s much less about like they’re willing or not willing to help, and much more [00:41:00] about, they tend to be overworked. They don’t have a lot of good tools, they don’t have a lot of bandwidth, and they really are just like trying to do their best.
And sometimes it’s just not a great experience for you as a citizen or as a private company. But when you drill in and find the person within, guarantee there’s somebody within a government org whose job it is to be thinking about the thing that you’re thinking about. And when you find that person, they frequently will be.
At least more responsive. And they may have someone on their team who can follow up, but if it is a small community you may find a quicker path to finding that key person by, as Chris mentioned, just reach out to a community org that might be already advocating for that. They may be plugged in.
Just work that, work your network, because there are there are ways to go through that process. And sometimes it’s just lengthy. Sometimes it’s building enough of a coalition that people pay attention. But, best of luck on that journey. Encourage, I do encourage you just like work, work your network and the network and build your network as best you can to find that way in.
But also be looking for the people who it is it’s very difficult for [00:42:00] folks in government to do things outside of what is in their scope of work for a lot of reasons. And so find the person who is responsible for that and try to go that way instead of like, to the city manager or to the mayor.
So just some thoughts there. Another great question. Where is a place to find community needs at a city or state level that we can make our projects to support ? I think we talked a little bit about this, just like in terms of problems with transparency and communication, but any thoughts, Chris, on say you’re trying to bring a project or you want to get involved with supporting your community, is there a place that you know, cities or states are publishing like their needs?
Christopher DuMont: Not that I felt like their needs from like community members to start their own initiatives. Is that kind of what you’re asking? Yeah.
Sedale Turbovsky: I’ll just throw out their home, man. I can’t, oh, city Innovate. That was the program and I think there’s, I think they still do things. There’s a startup called City Innovate that helps communities as well as state government and local governments suggest and like actually put on like challenge competitions.
And [00:43:00] they do have they have a little database of these things. There’s like the American made challenges. Website where you could look at like the federal government and some of their challenges that they have going on. The other place that you will find this information sometimes is through grant programs.
Sometimes there are grants that are put out with the specific idea of addressing these issues. But Chris, I think you’ll probably agree with me, but love to hear your thoughts. Like, There’s not a good place to find this except for going to the people whose job it is and I, and saying, Hey, how can we help?
That’s what I’ve found to be really effective.
Christopher DuMont: Yeah. Exactly. So maybe there’s a pollution, challenging or concerned citizen. You’re just like, I want to help, reduce pollution in my neighborhood. I know next door has something where like people can get involved and be like, Hey, like we want this in our community.
And then like maybe government officials might pay attention to that because you can raise enough voices on a social network like next. Yeah, other than finding grants, specifically [00:44:00] asking citizens for help on an issue, if you’re just coming outta the blue with an issue that you wanna solve for your community, it’s very difficult.
You just have to go to whatever community leader has the authority to sign off on that. And that could be a really challenging process. I know that someone I think I mentioned the kayaking project earlier. Someone wanted to put a kayaking project on my platform in order to, cuz he thought it would really benefit the community.
And he’s if I can get enough people interacting with each other and saying, Hey, we really want this kayaking thing this kayaking project, then he thought that would be enough to then go to a community board member and then just go up the food chain there. There is no good way, and it’s all detectable too by city, maybe some city still have portals for these things.
And walk into the mayor’s office.
Sedale Turbovsky: Yep. I think one thing I will say is despite some of the comments that we’ve made around some of the difficulty in accessing these folks how busy they are, I will say that one thing that I have found to be Incre [00:45:00] incredibly effective is in the case that you do understand say you build projects in the let’s say food insecurity space.
Just as a way of speaking to that say you build projects in that space. If you do have the opportunity to talk to whoever it is, who’s in charge of that within your local government or within the community. D sometimes it’s much better to go in and say, how can we help? What are the things that you are looking for?
In particular, if you’re a private company and you’re not like, on the advocacy front, you’re looking to maybe build coalitions and organize people. But if you’re a project builder, so you’re either going to get a grant or maybe you have a grant, you wanna put something in the ground or put something in place programmatically, it’s really great to go in and say, how can we help?
Because it’ll do two things. One, it’ll let you have a really relevant conversation with this individual who has an opportunity to sign off eventually on your project. And you’ll also get you may have been understanding the problem from one sense but in order to get your project funded, you really do need to understand it from their side of the table.
And you need to know what angle they’re trying to come at it. And so [00:46:00] they’ll be able to explain to you exactly what they need. And then you can turn around and if it’s a good fit, you could say, all right, we have what you need. Let’s ha let’s be helpful. Let’s work together. And, that’s just such a welcome experience from the public sector because they do frequently just have people coming in trying to sell them like the latest knickknack or gadget.
Cause everyone wants to sell things to the government. And so if you can show up and say, Hey, how can we be helpful? And then you actually have the means to be helpful based on what they said. It’s a slam dunk. It helps you get, a good relationship going. It helps you understand more about what they need.
And, ideally it, it builds it builds that initial rapport and opens up an opportunity for you to pitch them on a good idea that she can then move forward. Lots of ways to approach that. But I will say that if you can come in with that attitude of like, how can we be helpful?
It does go a long way.
Christopher DuMont: Totally. There was like just on that point You might see that there’s a problem and you think you have a solution. If you go into that meeting and talk with that community leader, they might be like, holy cow, we’ve noticed that this is a problem too. Thank you so much for addressing that.
Oh, you can solve it [00:47:00] in this way just, or, Hey, we solve this problem. We think it’s a different type of solution, but you can definitely be helpful. Yeah, definitely talk to them and get their needs and understood.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. We have about five minutes left here. I really appreciate all of the great insights, Chris, and and the comments.
And thank you everyone who’s been listening in for the great questions. Hopefully some of this has been useful. I just wanna mention we aren’t gonna go into like non-community engagement related questions on this webinar. So for everyone who did ask those kinds of questions, please feel free to reach out to the team or shoot us an email.
We will send a variety of follow up information. And emails out to everyone who registered. So you’ll have plenty of access to myself and the team and I’ll be asking Chris for some of his info that he wants to pass along to y’all as well. So thank y’all for being here. As we wrap up, Chris I wanna do two things.
You’ve been very humble and not speaking about Alpine sustains, which is totally fine, but I do wanna touch on what you’re building because I think it’s relevant to this conversation and super cool. [00:48:00] So I would love if you want to give us like the two minute, cuz we have, we now have four minutes left.
If you could give us two minutes on that. What’s Alpine sustains, what does it do? And then also like takeaway for the folks here. We’ve, I know we’ve talked a lot about community engagement, but what’s the call to action for the, for folks on the call? Is it, would love to hear your thoughts, closing thoughts on that and Alpine sustains.
Christopher DuMont: Sure. Thank you. Alpine Sustains is a so social networking platform for community development that actually matches users or community members and organizations to projects that would be very relevant for them. So we talked about food insecurity. If you’re gonna, if you’re a concerned citizen or your urban planner community, like community based organization that you’re doing food insecurity project with that, it would automatically tell you, Hey, these are the organizations, these are the community members that you should invite into the project.
And then it allows you to engage with all those people in the platform. So think like Facebook or NE Next Door. It allows you to do all that engagement in one place. It makes you, it allows you to find all those relevant stakeholders [00:49:00] automatically and completely free. Then on top of that, what we do for project managers is we kinda have a built in calculator of some sorts that allows you to.
Put in certain project information, what you’re doing. Then it tells you, Hey, these are the topics that you should consider based on your projects, food insecurity. Also consider these other topics like homelessness. Maybe think about composting. It could be anything that’s related to that specific project.
And then you can go about your project that way. So when you’re applying to a grant, you know all the different topics that you need to put into that grant application. You already know all the stickers that you can engage with, and you can engage with them on blah. So that’s Alpine Sustains.
Sedale Turbovsky: Love that I’m gonna, I’m just gonna interject one thing really quickly to bring some of this home, which is to say that you have built an incredible tool to do community engagement.
And my takeaway for the day is that like community engagement is key to [00:50:00] making sure your grant funded projects go off the right way and are successful and create ideal outcomes. That’s my takeaway. I really appreciate it. And yeah closing thoughts Chris?
Christopher DuMont: Yeah, so just off that point, the new Justice 40 requirements, if you’re doing anything with climate change or pollution, requires very robust community engagement and disadvantaged communities.
Having, being able to go at a outside sustains and engage with those communities easily and understand what, how they might be impacted by a project this could help you get that grant funding cuz it’s all automated and it helps you reach out to the right community members. One big key takeaway from me from this entire conversation is what SU was mentioning is budget for your community engagement and know exactly who you need to talk to and how you can work with those people you’re talking to, to maximize co benefits and reduce any negative externalities that your project might have on them.
You don’t want to exclude anyone from the process. And I [00:51:00] don’t think that you also want to of just have only certain people involved in the process that you think might be only impacted directly by the project. Think about the people that might be secondarily impacted. Make sure that they’re involved.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. Thank you so much. Real quick, cuz there’s two questions about this link to Alpine sustains. Is there like a website people can go to, to check it out and we’ll also Oh yes. Check off in the follow up email, so if you registered, don’t worry, but Alpine sustains real quick. Go and then we’re out.
Christopher DuMont: Alpinesustains.com. You sign for the newsletter and we just finished wrapping up our mvp. We’re building a beta right now and we’ll let you know when that’s ready so you can get involved with your community development and make your community sustainable and resilient.
Sedale Turbovsky: Awesome. Alpinesustains.com.
Thank you so much Chris. Thank you everyone who listened in today. Appreciate y’all. You can also pop over to OpenGrants.io. We’ll be sending out a follow up after this. Thank you so much and we’ll see you next month.