The City of Bellingham has launched a new public engagement website to offer people opportunities to share ideas and provide public input. City officials say this new tool will fill a vital public process role while COVID-19 requirements restrict public gatherings.
Called “Engage Bellingham" and located at engagebellingham.org, the site gives people the opportunity to provide feedback and participate in discussions about City decision-making processes through a convenient, easy-to-use online platform. Depending on the topic being presented, people may share their views through comment boxes, quick polls, surveys, discussion boards, or other online tools.
Bellingham Planning and Community Development Department Director Rick Sepler said launching this new public engagement site now is key to being able to move forward on projects that are a priority for the City and the community.
“Meaningful engagement with stakeholders is important to City decision making," Sepler said. “Restrictions on in-person gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19 mean we cannot engage with our community in our typical ways. Yet we must offer ways for people to learn about how decisions may affect them and for people to provide feedback about options City officials are considering. Our Engage Bellingham site provides these opportunities."
For now, he said, the Engage Bellingham site will replace in-person open houses, focus groups, public meetings, and other ways the City typically engages with the community on projects that benefit from public feedback beyond what is required. The site does not replace required public meetings currently being held via remote technologies, such as Planning Commission and City Council meetings, public hearings, and neighborhood meetings for planning permits.
The site currently includes opportunities for people to provide feedback on the Residential Multi (RM) project, Family Definition project, and the Climate Action Plan. Feedback provided via the Engage Bellingham site will be reviewed and considered by staff and City officials throughout the duration of these projects.
Sepler said the site is new and a “work in progress," developed quickly in response to the needs posed by COVID-19 restrictions. More projects will be added in the future, and when restrictions are lifted, the site will supplement in-person meetings. It is user friendly and allows participation from people who may otherwise be unable to attend in-person meetings due to schedule or location constraints.
While registration is not required to view the Engage Bellingham site, to access interactive elements of the site users are asked to register, provide a valid email address, and consider answering optional demographic questions. The site is now live and accepting registrations at www.engagebellingham.org.
Sepler said COVID-19 restrictions on in-person gatherings and the need to find alternatives prompted the City to subscribe to the platform from Bang the Table (EngagementHQ), a company whose mission is focused on digital public participation. A number of Washington cities are using this online service, including City of Olympia Engage Olympia, City of Sammamish Connect Sammamish, and City of Vancouver Be Heard Vancouver.
Join the conversation at engagebellingham.org.