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We created the Equitable Community Engagement Toolkit in collaboration with City government practitioners, community organizations, and community members. “Community engagement” refers to a practice that connects City government to the communities we serve. And “practitioners” refer to the people who facilitate community engagement. Words like “our” and “we” refer to the project team who led the work.

Our goal was to make sure our design process mirrored the equity centered recommendations we make in the Toolkit. We did that by:

  • Reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of our design process. That helped find opportunities for improvement and learning.
  • Working with diverse collaborators across City government and within communities. That helped reflect their interests and needs in the Toolkit.
  • Designing in the open and releasing pieces of the Toolkit over time. That helped keep collaborators engaged and integrate their feedback.

Below, we outline the process and methods we used to build the Toolkit. We also describe who we collaborated with throughout its development.


Cross-agency partnerships

A coalition of City agencies supported the creation of the Toolkit. That includes:

The project team that led the collaborative Toolkit work includes staff from the PHL Service Design Studio, the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service (OCEVS), and the Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT). Our team members span diverse abilities, ages, genders, ethnicities, races, and sexual orientations. We also live in different neighborhoods across the city.

An Operations Transformation Fund grant and an Innovation Management grant funded our community engagement work to create the Toolkit.


Creating the Toolkit

We used a collaborative process to create the Toolkit. It was made up of seven phases where we released content and gathered feedback over time.

In our first two phases, we gathered insight and built relationships by:

  • Listening. We facilitated interviews and focus groups with City government practitioners, community organizations, and community members to learn about their engagement challenges and recommendations for change.
  • Understanding. We processed what we learned from phase one and documented key insights. Then, we shared those insights back with the people we engaged to gather another round of feedback.

Then, we started to design and build the Toolkit by:

  • Strategizing. We defined the Toolkit’s foundational goals, metrics, and vision based on what we learned in the first two phases. We also outlined the content needed to achieve our goals.
  • Drafting. We worked with our City colleagues to write and review guidance. Then, to build and design the Toolkit website. And finally, to develop the consulting and training programs that support guidance.
  • Testing and evaluating. We shared draft guidance with City government practitioners and asked for their feedback. We’ve evaluated the guidance and training program as City agencies pilot tested guidance and training content. We also assembled a community advisory council to further refine and inform future content.

In the long term, we’ll implement the Toolkit by:

  • Integrating and releasing. We’ll continually evaluate, revise, and update the Toolkit website. We’re currently developing a long-term governance plan to guide this process over time.
  • Supporting ongoing growth. The PHL Service Design Studio and the Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service are working together to develop a program strategy that includes a community of practice, consulting program, and training program. The program strategy aims to support City government practitioners as they practice equitable community engagement.

We’ll share more details about the governance plan and the program strategy when the full site is launched in the fall of 2023.



Collaborating with City government practitioners

We worked with practitioners across City government to build most of the Toolkit. Our goal is to make sure that guidance responds to our colleagues’ interests and needs.

Our collaboration looked like:

  • Gathering initial insights through interviews and focus groups. We met with 68 practitioners across 35 agencies to understand their engagement challenges and recommendations for change. Their insights helped us draft foundational Toolkit content.
  • Practicing openly with the Equitable Engagement Collaborative. The Collaborative is a Citywide community of practice made up of more than 240 practitioners. We gave regular updates at their meetings, wrote guidance with members, facilitated “book clubs” using Toolkit content, gathered live feedback, and tested training content.
  • Seeking advice from cross-agency advisors. We worked closely with 11 advisors with subject matter expertise in racial equity, accessible engagement, trauma-informed practices, and community organizing. We engaged them through focus groups, one-on-ones, content reviews, and quarterly meetings.
  • Evaluating Toolkit guidance, consulting, and training with City partners. We partnered with City agencies to evaluate their use of Toolkit guidance and training. Those partnerships helped us understand what needs to be improved.


Collaborating with community members

In phases one and two, we focused our efforts on building relationships with local community organizations. We also engaged community members who shared their challenges engaging with City government and recommendations for change. Their insights informed our foundational Toolkit guidance.

In addition to our own research, early conversations with City government practitioners helped us identify important collaborators, including:

  • Community members without digital access or digital skills.
  • Community members with disabilities.
  • Community members with diverse language preferences.
  • Community members of color impacted by systemic racism.

We also prioritized collaborating with specific community members who’ve been historically excluded from City government decision making, including:

  • Community members who’ve experienced homelessness.
  • Community members who’ve experienced incarceration.
  • Families and single mothers.
  • LBGTQIA+ community members.
  • Low-wealth community members.
  • Older adults and youth.

We aimed to collaborate with community organizations and community members who have diverse lived experiences and intersectional identities. That’s because we want the Toolkit content to address the most significant barriers to practicing equitable community engagement in Philadelphia.

Our collaboration with community organizations and community members will continue. We aim to share more details about what this will look like as part of the long-term governance plan we’ll share in the fall of 2023.


Goals for the future

It’s our goal to ensure the Toolkit guidance, consulting, and training help City government practitioners develop more equitable engagement practices. We also aim to advocate for the systems changes required for City government to fully adopt those practices.

Equitable engagement practices are constantly changing. As we practice, we learn from past mistakes and accomplishments. We’d love to know what you’re learning. Complete the form below to submit your story.

We’ll continue to collect your feedback to make sure our guidance is responsive to your needs. Complete the feedback form below to let us know if the Toolkit was helpful.