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In February 2023, the PHL Service Design Studio established the Community Advisory Council (“CAC”) to support the development of the Equitable Community Engagement Toolkit project (“Engagement Toolkit”). The CAC was funded by the Operations Transformation Fund and administered by the City of Philadelphia’s Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (“CAO”) and the Philadelphia City Fund.

In this three-part series, we share details about the goals of the Community Advisory Council (“CAC”), how the Council was created, what the collaboration process looked like, and what we learned together.

This is the first story in the series. The goal of this series is to provide practical guidance and tips you may use in your engagement efforts. We also hope it inspires you to connect with members of your community in deeper, more meaningful ways.


Creating the Community Advisory Council

The Community Advisory Council (“CAC”) was created to invite community members to advise the City of Philadelphia on equitable engagement practices that address racial equity as well as digital, language, and disability access issues.

From February through June 2023, 10 Philadelphia-based community organizers, engagement practitioners, and residents reviewed and revised Engagement Toolkit guides in the Radical Inclusion section. Advisors received $6,000 stipends to meet bi-weekly and review Engagement Toolkit guidance content. Resident compensation was made possible with a grant from the Operations Transformation Fund and was managed by our fiscal sponsors at the Philadelphia City Fund.

The CAC was coordinated and facilitated by the PHL Service Design Studio’s Lead Service Design Strategists, Andrea Ngan and Danita Reese.

This case study series was co-created by the advisors and facilitators to document the CAC experience.

A very special thank you to all 10 advisors for contributing to the Engagement Toolkit and to this story:

A collage showing headshots of all ten community advisors

Top row (l-r): Antoinette Ellis, Ava Campbell, Brenda Mosley, Jazmin Banks, and Meliza Reynoso.
Bottom row (l-r): Ousmane Ndiaye, Shimaa Eid, Tyrell Brown, Vicki Landers, and Yvonne Hughes.


Goals of the Community Advisory Council

“Equitable community engagement means giving people in the community a chance to be involved. The term equitable means that it is not limited to those who work for the City of Philadelphia, but anyone in the community who deems interest. Equitable means anyone has an opportunity to engage regardless of their status in society.”

– Antoinette Ellis


Prior to forming the CAC, the PHL Service Design Studio team engaged over 150 City staff and community members in 1:1 conversations, focus groups, and collaborative workshops to inform the initial guidance. Funding timeline constraints required the Engagement Toolkit content strategists to distill the data from all those conversations into the initial guidance. Because of those constraints, the project team advocated for resources to invite community members to inform the guidance in deeper ways.

In creating the CAC, the goals were to:

  • Invite diverse co-creators from across Philadelphia who embodied an array of lived experiences. This was done to ensure the Toolkit accurately uplifted practices that aligned with community needs and interests.
  • Review existing Toolkit guidance and provide additional feedback on the topics of racial equity and digital, disability, and language access.
  • Create or propose new Toolkit guidance to account for content that was missing from the initial guidance.
  • Inform the Engagement Toolkit program and offer advice and ideas to identify long-term ways to improve how City agencies can equitably work with community residents. This included offering suggestions on engagement-related training and Engagement Toolkit implementation plans.


Recruiting for the Community Advisory Council

“Engagement is a way for government to share decision making power with the people it serves. And everyone has a right to inform the decisions that impact their lives. Especially communities who’ve been historically marginalized by government decisions and actions, including LGBTQIA+ communities, low-wealth communities, communities with disabilities, and communities of color, including African, Asian, Black, Brown, Caribbean, immigrant, indigenous, Middle Eastern, and Native communities.”

Equitable Community Engagement Toolkit Vision


To identify advisors, the PHL Service Design Studio and the Philadelphia City Fund (PCF) published an online application on the PCF website in December 2022. From December through mid-January, the application was promoted by several City agencies across multiple digital and social media platforms. It was also shared through e-newsletters, emails, and word of mouth.

The application asked community members to answer a series of questions. It included open-ended text boxes throughout to allow applicants to share additional information. We’ve added brief explanations alongside the questions below to provide context on why specific questions were asked.

To get a mix of community members who had and had not engaged directly with the City, community members were asked:

  • What is your experience collaborating with the City of Philadelphia?
  • In less than 100 words, tell us why you’re interested in contributing to the Equitable Community Engagement Toolkit Community Advisory Council.
  • In less than 100 words, tell us about the skills, experiences, knowledge, or resources you bring to this group.

To account for language access feedback, community members were asked the following questions. Note that these languages were prioritized based on gaps in the team’s initial outreach and research efforts.

  • Do you speak, read, and understand Spanish?
  • Do you speak, read, and understand Arabic?
  • Do you speak, read, and understand Russian?
  • Do you speak, read, and understand Vietnamese?

To address digital access content needs, community members were asked:

  • Do you feel comfortable using digital devices, like computers or smartphones, to access and use the internet?
  • Can you access the internet in your home?

To account for disability access feedback, community members were asked:

  • Do you identify as a person with a disability?
  • (Optional) If you feel comfortable, please tell us about your disability.

To address racial equity content needs, community members were asked to self-disclose:

  • What is your race or ethnicity?

To ensure a diverse range of ages could contribute, community members were asked to share which age range they fell into.

And lastly, the application included the following optional questions:

  • What is your gender?
  • What is your sexual identity or orientation?
  • If you’re a community organizer, advocate, or engagement practitioner, in less than 100 words, tell us about the communities you work with.

Applications were open for approximately one month, during which more than 100 applications were received. A selection committee, composed of Toolkit project team members and stakeholders, conducted a series of reviews before identifying the final 10 advisors.


Key takeaways from the application and recruiting process

The following are key learnings for future facilitators to consider:

  • Extend the application timeline. Keeping the application open longer than one month–especially if launching during a busy time of the year–will give more community members more time to apply. It also allows more time for people to share the news with their communities.
  • Conduct more robust outreach. Dedicate ample time to reach out to different communities in a variety of ways to increase awareness. Advisors shared that an indication of successful outreach would have meant hearing about the open call from different channels, organizations, people, and groups across Philadelphia as opposed to a singular source.
  • Prioritize diverse voices. Ensure that the council’s sample size reflects the demographics of the communities most impacted by your engagement. As a predominantly Black and sanctuary city, it was important for the City of Philadelphia to be explicit about inviting Black, immigrant, and/or refugee perspectives. Most importantly, don’t forget to consider gender, sexuality, socio-economic, and other lived experiences that are often systemically excluded or oppressed.
  • Compensate participants fairly. Understand that lived experience is expertise. Pay community members as you would any consultant for their time and labor.

We hope this information and these takeaways will be useful for you. If you have questions or specific feedback about the approach to creating the CAC, email us at

We also encourage you to explore the related guides below. They provide deeper guidance and additional recommendations which can help your engagement planning and facilitation efforts. And stay tuned for the next story in this series which will focus on how the CAC worked together to inform and revise guides in the Radical Inclusion section.