Case Study: Creating an Equitable Community Engagement Practice | Director General’s Office


This is a case study of the Equitable Community Engagement Toolkit project, which is an ongoing project in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteerism.

The partners

  • Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteering (MOCEVS)
  • Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement (OPE)
  • Director General’s Office (CAO)
  • Office of Innovation and Technology (ILO)
  • Mayor’s Political Office (MPO)
  • Community engagement practitioners in many municipal organizations

Stakeholder participation

We worked with 150 stakeholders inside and outside of municipal government, including:

  • 31 unique community engagement practitioners affiliated with over 25 local organizations.
  • 51 unique community residents.
  • 68 engagement practitioners in 35 agencies, including 11 city leaders who act as advisors.


Engagement is the fundamental way government opens its doors to connect communities to programs and services, better understand community needs, share decision-making, and work in solidarity with what is already happening in neighborhoods. However, many communities are unwilling and unable to interact with the City of Philadelphia (i.e. the city) because we have either broken their trust or failed to create the conditions for their engagement.

When community members have no means to shape government policies, programs and services that affect them, their needs often go unmet. The Equitable Community Engagement Toolkit (i.e. Toolkit) aims to create the conditions necessary for equitable forms of engagement to occur between the City and the communities we serve. .

Although communities are not monolithic, our early research indicated that there are four communities that are often not engaged by the City.

These communities included:

  • People living with a disability.
  • People with no or limited English proficiency.
  • People without digital access or with low digital literacy.
  • People of color who have been impacted by systemic racism.


This project aims to answer the following questions:

  • Vision: What does equitable community engagement look like with historically under-engaged communities?​
  • Tactical: How can we develop shared practices, tools and training to support City staff in their equitable engagement efforts?​
  • Operations: How do we ensure that feedback collected from ​diverse communities informs government decision-making?​
  • Responsibility: How do we know when we are practicing fair community engagement at the City?​
An image of the Equitable Community Engagement Toolkit project ecosystem.

How we work

To date, we have worked on four phases.

  1. Agreement: We worked with City staff, community practitioners and residents to better understand their engagement challenges, needs and opportunities for improvement.
  2. Synthesize: After conducting 56 interviews, 12 focus groups, 20 co-design sessions, and 11 advisor meetings, we synthesized our learnings into 45 summaries and three reports. We have shared these documents with stakeholders for feedback.
  3. Strategy development: We developed a foundational strategy for the toolkit (eg, vision and success metrics) and mapped the guidance, tools, and training to achieve that vision.
  4. Design and production : With a Grant from the Operations Transformation Fund, We hired two content strategy fellows, one user experience design strategy fellow, and a software developer to write, design, and build the digital toolkit.

Our future phases (beyond phase four) will involve the creation of a community advisory group that will oversee the piloting of the toolkit with city agencies and communities. Additionally, we will hire an Equitable Community Engagement Manager and Trainer who will embed Toolkit-centric practices throughout the city of Philadelphia.

A virtual co-design session facilitated by Danita Reese and Andrea Ngan (PHL Service Design Studio Team Leads) with five community residents and two ASL interpreters.

What we have done

For a year and a half, we have been facilitating:

  • 46 interviews with City engagement staff.
  • 7 focus groups with City engagement staff.
  • 3 Councilor meetings with City leaders.
  • 6 focus groups with community practitioners.
  • 10 interviews with community practitioners.
  • 8 meetings of community practitioner advisors.
  • 20 community co-design sessions with residents.
Left: An entrance to a Buddhist temple that hosted one of two Chinese language access co-design sessions. Right: Seven participants completing a co-design session survey.

These participatory sessions informed the following deliverables.

  • 45 summaries and three summary reports: The papers summarize how to improve digital, disability and language access issues in community engagement.
    An example of a digital access summary report.
  • A searchable database: A repository of over 1,200 coded data points from city staff and community members that maps engagement challenges, best practices, case examples and recommendations for improving city engagement .
    A searchable database image.
  • Fundamental Strategy: A strategy that documents the revised vision for the toolkit based on community feedback and how that vision will appear in the toolkit tips, tools and training.
    A table of tips, tools, and training that will be created for the toolbox before, during, and after the phases.
  • Bi-monthly newsletter: We have published several email newsletters to keep our stakeholders informed and involved in our process.
  • Grant from the Business Transformation Fund (OTF): We applied for and received a grant of approximately $550,000 from the OTF to support the design, construction and piloting of the toolkit.
  • Coalition building in progress: We have showcased our work in various spaces around the City to ensure employees are fully aware of the project. Besides, we meet regularly with our core project team and quarterly with a coalition of internal engagement practitioners and project advisors.
  • New member on board: Over the past few months, we have hired and welcomed four new OTF-funded Toolkit team members. They are Anthony Procik, Arielle McInnis –SimoncelliNicholas Krapf and John Cajigas.

Next steps

In the near future, we will:

  • Hire an Equitable Community Engagement Manager and Trainer who will cultivate a community of practice in the city and pilot the toolkit with city staff and community members.
  • Launch versions of the Equitable Community Engagement Toolkit for piloting.
  • Create and onboard a community advisory board that will lead the toolkit pilots and offer feedback on the toolkit guidance.
  • Develop a governance plan so that the toolkit can continue to meet community needs over time.

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