KLA Perspectives

What We Heard at APA's NPC 2018

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Apr 25, 2018 10:18:49 PM

The KLA team just returned from the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference in New Orleans -- both exhausted and reinvigorated. From the Women in Planning steamboat cruise to adventures in the French Quarter to watching our colleagues (and some of our work) on the Green Streets Lawrence Health Impact Assessment (which we did a podcast on last year) recognized with an Achievement Award, it was certainly a celebratory trip.

But you could find us most of the time at our booth in the Exhibit Hall’s Tech Zone where we were busy chatting with planners, students, researchers, and other consultants from the US and around the world.

The “Podcast for Planners” sign caught their eye, and dozens of people snapped photos so they could log on to iTunes or Sound Cloud post-conference and get our SAS Talk with Kim (Sustainability Action Series) podcast in their que. Our most recent topics include open data, climate adaptation planning and participatory budgeting. Sounds like a bunch of you listen to podcasts on your commutes!

Our Storytelling Guidebook was another popular request. If you didn’t get a copy, download it for free here. We were thrilled when more than 40 people packed the Tech Zone presentation area for our “How to Turn Your Data Into a Story” interactive session. What resonated with people was all the data we have access to, but that we either keep it buried in internal documents or put confusing, out-of-context bar graphs and pie charts up on a website and expect people to “get it.” It can make a huge difference if we tease a story out of the data.

KLA Community Dashboard: Keep the Conversation Going from Kim Lundgren on Vimeo.

And our new video about our Community Dashboard 2.0 grabbed their attention. You can watch it here. After they watched it we walked them through a few of our current Dashboards --- from Nashua , Encinitas and Cambridge – and showed them some of what we’re working on and that you’ll see soon in San Antonio and Indianapolis, among others. (If you missed it, you can learn more about the Dashboard here. )

Engaging Planners with Community Engagement

Heads were nodding and sighs were audible as we talked about this all-too-common scenario: You spend so much time and resources on the planning process, whether it’s a comp plan, sustainability plan, transportation plan, etc. You do a pretty impressive job of engaging the community through meetings and events and online tools like social media and surveys. You get them jazzed. You build a fancy website. Your plan is passed. And then what? Does the plan sit on the shelf? Is your community left wondering what’s happening, if the plan is working and what they can do?

That’s where a platform like a Dashboard can keep the conversation and the engagement going beyond the planning process. The theme of community engagement was ever present for KLA at the conference, both in what we were discussing at our booth but also in the sessions we attended -- where we heard about Austin's efforts to think outside the box (we liked their engagement of business owners to reach employees); the "On the Table" approach from Lexington, KY, that lets people connect over food in the forum with which they are most comfortable; and the online engagement strategies employed by MetroQuest

We came away from NPC18 with new ideas for how we can refine our tools and services to address current needs, new insight into the challenges that planners face especially in the sustainability sphere, new friends (plus lots of time to hang out with old friends, like Doug Melnick of San Antonio, at right) and new partners.

P.S. FEMA's Virtual Reality experience IMMERSED could be a game-changer for communities where flooding and natural disasters are a concern -- which pretty much covers us all. It's a truly powerful exercise that lets you experience and flood crisis and see the benefits of hazard mitigation first-hand. We were blown away by it and could see this being particularly useful for elected officials and other decision makers. 


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Topics: sustainability, cities, planning

Podcast with the Sunlight Foundation’s Open Cities Storyteller: Putting Open Data to Work for your Community

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Apr 19, 2018 10:03:50 AM

“Open Data” feels like the buzzword that just won’t quit. It was popping up so much in client conversations and at conferences that we knew it was time to do a SAS Talk with Kim podcast on how open data policies are being implemented in cities and the opportunities to improve government services and strengthen the community.

We went straight to the source with the Sunlight Foundation’s Open Cities Storyteller (cool job title!) Alex Dodds.

Listen to our Open Data Podcast.

At its core, the Sunlight Foundation is “committed to improving public access to public information by making it available to the public, online [through] civic technologies, open data, policy analysis and journalism.”

A KLA colleague also just attended an Open Data session at the TomTom Founders Festival in Charlottesville that included representatives from OpenGov, the City of Seattle and Results for America.

Open Data > Raw Data

The key theme in my chat with Alex and during that session was the balance between open data and raw data -- the notion that it’s not enough to pass an open data policy and start publishing it. We heard two sayings that summed it up nicely:

“If you build it, they might not necessarily come.”

“You can lead a horse to data, but you can’t make him think.”

This goes way beyond asking someone in the IT department (though that is usually where open data responsibilities are housed) to just a pdf online or give access to a database. The Governing Magazine reporter who moderated the Charlottesville panel noted that when cities and companies want you to NOT find something, they just dump all the data in your lap (in the old days that was giving them the keys to a giant warehouse of boxes; today’s equivalent is pointing them to a massive website database or spreadsheet).

The open data we’re talking about -- that can truly empower the community and make local governments not just more accountable but more effective -- provides a roadmap. You have to curate and interpret the data, put it in context and use storytelling to foster what is called “data literacy.”

Open data typically covers things like car accidents, crime reports, 911 calls, construction permits, restaurant inspections, and service requests. When pieced together and put in historical context, data points of that nature can be life-changing for the community. It can inform major policies and programs, confirms assumption or turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Let The Sun Shine In

Of course there is an inherent challenge to open data: It can expose shortcomings and make people inside the local government feel vulnerable. Indeed, it often means a culture change that has to start at the top with leaders who embrace transparency.

As one panelist in Charlottesville said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” By “lifting up the hood” you are showing accountability and building trust with the community. After all, if you don’t share the news that isn’t good, people will be skeptical when you share the good news. It proves you have nothing to hide. And it gives local governments new partners. You bring your community along on the journey, build a shared narrative and can work together to solve problems.

Open data can also pinpoint inequities, but the local government must connect the dots for the disparities to be addressed. One Charlottesville panelist cited an anecdote about ambulance response times in New Orleans. The basic gist was that the city used data to reposition EMTs around the city to ensure faster -- and more equitable -- response times. You can check out a full case study by Results for America.  

So how do you get beyond the stacks of raw data to meaningful open data? Alex talked about the Sunlight Foundation’s Tactical Data Engagement 4-step, people-centered process:

  1. Find a general focus area by observing community information needs.
  2. Refine information use cases by interviewing stakeholders
  3. Design a plan by coordinating with target data users
  4. Implement an intervention by collaborating with actual users

The Sunlight Foundation describes the importance of Tactical Data Engagement this way: 

“Cities across the United States are making public data more open and accessible to their residents. Mayors and city staff are improving their policies and technical offerings to make more and more information about how local governments function available online. These developments represent a sea-change in our societal norms and expectations about the public right to government information. We believe Tactical Data Engagement is the next step in that cultural movement toward transparency and accountability. While open data policies and portals are invaluable components of improving local governments’ outcomes, the ultimate goal of all government work — including open data — is to improve the day-to-day lives of the people in a community.”They are piloting this approach to helping people put data to use in Austin, TX, Norfolk, VA, and Madison, WI.

As we often note when discussing our Community Dashboard with cities, today we have easy access to mountains of data. How we choose to open that data up to our communities and turn it into compelling stories will determine the impact it can have.

Listen to our Open Data Podcast.

Open Data Resources:

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Topics: sustainability, cities, open data

Five Things to Consider for Your 2019 Budgeting

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Feb 14, 2018 1:22:42 PM

Many city and county staff and elected officials are hammering away at their 2019 budgets right now.

Has your city or elected official made any big climate or sustainability commitments? Maybe your mayor joined the #WeAreStillIn movement and committed to pursuing the carbon emissions reductions of the global Paris Climate Accord. Are you considering adopting a resolution to transition to 100 percent renewable energy or do you have a local Climate Action/Sustainability/Resilience plan in the works? Or pursuing STAR Communities certification? 

All of those commitments will require plenty of activity in 2018-2019. 

With that in mind, here are 5 things to consider as you are mapping out next year’s budget:

  1. Staffing: Do you have enough staff in place to effectively accomplish your goals? Are their workplans aligned with these goals? Are they empowered with the support and resources they need? What outside help -- volunteers, interns, consultants, school/university partnerships -- should you consider to meet your needs? 
  2. Events and Trainings: Have you accounted for staff travel to important and relevant conferences where they can get new skills, connections and ideas to apply back home? Maybe staff travel is limited for financial and other reasons. Perhaps you can earmark some funds for webinars, online trainings and membership in professional associations which provide access to networks and tools -- all available right from your desk.
  3. Community Engagement: Meaningful community engagement is not free. But it’s critical. These days you need to factor in: opportunities to reach people in person at events (think: Earth Day events, cultural fairs, farmers markets, neighborhood block parties); an online platform and social media so you reach people where they already are; making events and materials accessible (translation, physical limitations); and crafting appropriate messages for different audiences. Inclusive and equitable public engagement is what every community strives for now- are you laying a foundation to do this on an ongoing basis? Are there tools out there that could help you accomplish this? 
  4. Progress Reports. People love commitments by public officials because it means accountability. You might have your ducks in a row for how you plan to meet your pledged goals, but does your community know that? Do you have a simple way to report your progress so that everyday citizens can understand it well enough to track it -- and then ideally be inspired by your successes to take action themselves? There is also increased scrutiny of commitments on a national scale to determine if these local efforts are really working. Make sure you're factoring in time to track and report (more than just sticking charts on a page buried on your city's website) your work. 
  5. Internal Collaboration: So much of what we do on climate, energy, sustainability and community development, by default, straddles a variety of local government departments -- from Public Works to Planning to the Mayor’s office and beyond. Could you pool resources with other departments to accomplish shared goals? Are there events, subscriptions, events, etc., where you could tag-team? What other ways can you collaborate to use funds most efficiently?

It's a lot to consider, the cumulative pricetag could carry some sticker shock, and tough choices mean some of it has to stay on the drawing board for now. 

What if I told you that for less than $10K a year, there's a tool that can help you with everything from staff support to community engagement to interdepartmental collaboration?

Here's what Nashua has to say:  "The Livable Nashua Dashboard created a totally new way for the City to educate the public on the many great initiatives we are already doing, provide transparent data and really start engaging the community on long-term goal setting."


The Dashboard is a communication platform that turns your data into stories and those stories into impact. It can help you plug staffing gaps with customization options and additional support such as social media packages, news monitoring and more. We team up with our clients to present the Dashboard on webinars and at conferences. The Dashboard has mechanisms to continuously engage community members in a way that inspires individual action. It allows you to track and report progress toward your goals and share successes. And it can be utilized (on the back-end and public-facing side) by multiple departments seamlessly.

Find out how the Dashboard can help you meet your goals in 2019 at a price point that works for your budget. 

Take a 2-minute video tour of the Dashboard to see how it could work in your community:  



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Topics: climate action, local leadership, cities, budgeting

Conferences: Content + Connections

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Jan 31, 2018 11:53:02 AM

I have spent a good chunk of my career travelling around the country for work. Whether for conferences or to meet with local government clients, I spend enough time in the air to maintain elite airline status. Once I had my daughter, regular travel became a bit harder, but once I arrive at my destination, I am all in. It is so gratifying and inspiring to engage with so many talented people -- many of whom have become not just peers and colleagues but good friends along the way.

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Topics: sustainability, podcast, climate action, local leadership, climate adaptation, climate resiliency, conferences, SAS Talk Podcast, cities

8 Lessons Washington, DC Learned about Community Engagement in 2017

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Jan 24, 2018 9:57:34 AM

In 2017 KLA brought you 20 episodes of our SAS Talk with Kim podcast on topics ranging from the circular economy to smart cities. We’re underway with recording new podcasts for 2018, but we’ll also be checking back in with our previous guests to see what has transpired since our chat and what new insights they have to share with you.

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Topics: sustainability, podcast, community engagement, climate action, local leadership, SAS Talk Podcast, DC, cities

Client News: Encinitas in Climate Action

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Jan 22, 2018 11:40:29 AM

We love it when a city pledges to “go green.” We love it even more when cities back up those words with meaningful goals and plans to reach those goals. And, well, our hearts just flutter when those cities complement that plan with our Community Dashboard and a strategy for truly engaging the community in reaching those goals together.

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Topics: sustainability, community engagement, dashboard, climate action, local leadership, cities, Encinitas, California

5 Reasons We're Excited for 2018

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Jan 10, 2018 4:33:34 PM

2018 is here, and the KLA team is excited. Last year we laid a solid foundation implementing our Community Dashboard for our clients’ sustainability, resilience and climate action initiatives. It was a rewarding year but one that also underscored the imperative of our work at the local level given the political atmosphere at the federal level.

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Topics: sustainability, local leadership, cities, 2018

SE Florida Climate Summit: Time to Act

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Dec 20, 2017 4:35:11 PM

I wrapped up my 2017 travel at the 9th Annual Southeast Florida Regional Climate Leadership Summit. This event continues to grow and inspire with nearly 600 attendees this year! The Summit actually sold out this year and they worked with the Broward County Convention Center to adjust room layouts so they could accommodate extra people, allowing an additional 40 people to attend.

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Topics: sustainability, Florida, local leadership, climate resiliency, cities, sea level rise

Orlando and the Pursuit of a Smart City

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Dec 12, 2017 10:36:11 AM

Smart cities. Everyone wants to live in one. Plenty of cities are trying to become one.

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Topics: sustainability, podcast, Florida, local leadership, SAS Talk Podcast, cities, smartcities, Orlando

Would you like to be a guest on our podcast in 2018?

Posted by Kim Lundgren on Dec 11, 2017 5:28:41 PM

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Topics: sustainability, podcast, local leadership, SAS Talk Podcast, cities