New York City has a tradition of robust community engagement efforts. However, historically, engagement has not been coordinated, which leads to duplicative, overlapping, and sometimes contradictory efforts. With this context in mind, during the transition, Mayor Eric Adams established the first-ever Civic Engagement Transition Committee. The committee was charged with identifying successful models of community engagement, troubleshooting existing pain points, recommending opportunities to streamline engagement, and centering the voices of everyday New Yorkers in key strategies. The projects highlighted in New York’s application reflect this authentic commitment to civic engagement.
Launched during the height of the pandemic, NYC Speaks is a public-private initiative led by the City of New York in partnership with a civic coalition of everyday New Yorkers, community-based organizations, and philanthropy. This initiative engaged New Yorkers in shaping the policies and priorities of the new administration. NYC Speaks funded 19 Community-Based Organizations to meet New Yorkers where they live and work, in the communities hardest hit by COVID-19.
The goal of the NYC Speaks survey was to amplify the voices of New Yorkers on issues that impact them most directly, especially New Yorkers typically excluded from government decision-making. The survey was designed with the help of a Civic Policy Council–made up of restaurant owners, artists, religious leaders, teachers, activists, hospital workers, and more.
New Yorkers gave their input on 27 high-impact policy questions across 10 issue areas: health and well-being, arts and culture, housing and neighborhoods, economy and workforce, racial equity, climate and infrastructure, education and youth development, public safety, gender justice, and civic engagement. The NYC Speaks survey reached a diverse and representative selection of New Yorkers, capturing the voices of youth, as well as vulnerable populations, such as those living in public housing, those experiencing homelessness, previously incarcerated individuals, and members of the disabled community.
The NYC Speaks Community Conversations brought the survey data back to communities to interpret and reflect upon. Conversations were an additional opportunity for New Yorkers to dig into the issues they cared about most. Attendees were asked: Does this approach make sense to you? How else might you approach it? What ideas would you prioritize?
NYC Speaks coded over 1,000 community insights. More than 4,800 New Yorkers participated in over 220 Community Conversation events across the city in April and May of 2022. They were hosted in each borough, convened in 8 different languages, and served populations that have historically been marginalized.
Action Plan Workshops
Action Plan Workshops (APWs) were in-person events that provided community leaders, policy experts, and funders an opportunity to collaborate with city leadership and staff on priority actions to be advanced and included in the NYC Speaks Action Plan.
The shared vision of the APWs was to enhance transparency and civic trust by creating a public-facing Action Plan that clearly articulates how the administration is acting based on the data collected through NYC Speaks surveys and community conversations. The public-facing Action Plan highlighted the importance of community-generated data and solutions, summarized the NYC Speaks process- what was heard, how New Yorkers shaped the plan, and what comes next. The Action Plan included five action areas each with a clear north star. Each north star included initial commitments, metrics, key agencies, and potential future actions that the city and partners may choose to advance.
Through APWS, the city brought community-gathered data to the table for each North Star, brainstormed frameworks to address the issues raised through the civic engagement process, and co-created solutions that have the potential to inform upcoming administration plans, community programming, advocacy, and legislative agendas.
The NYC Speaks Action Plan was launched at a public event at Gracie Mansion, which was also streamed online so that residents who were unable to attend in-person could join virtually. One-pager summaries of the plan, that have been translated in 10 local languages, are publicly available on the NYC Speaks site and are actively being distributed to the 50 Community-Based Organizations who led community conversations. A youth-focused event is being planned which will include a thorough read out of the plan, as well as updates on how the commitments have evolved.
Civic Engagement Commission
From 202-2021, the Civic Engagement Commission (CEC) ran a participatory budgeting (PB) process designed by youth, for youth. The goal of the project was to engage and empower young people to decide how to spend $100,000 of expense funding on projects that meet their needs, address their interests, and strengthen youth engagement across the city. The project was launched in the early stages of the pandemic, while so many youth were experiencing isolation, depression, and anxiety in a prolonged remote educational and social setting.
Youth Fellows participated as digital platform moderators, developing messaging and promoting the process on social media, and designing and facilitating thirty-two conversations with over two hundred young people throughout the city. Youth provider organizations were then invited to submit proposals, in consultation with youth, that directly addressed the ideas and needs youth identified in the first stage of the project, including mental health, career and college readiness, and investing in youth advocacy to ensure young people’s needs and voices are heard. Youth votes determined the projects awarded. In the end, the process funded five $20k youth-focused projects.
In 2021, The CEC launched “The People’s Money,” a $1.3 million PB process in the 33 neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19. Residents decided how to spend over $40K in expense funding in programs and services in their neighborhood.
Starting in Fall of 2022, the CEC launched the first citywide PB process. All residents, aged 11 and up, will be able to vote on how to spend $5 million in mayoral expense funding on projects in their neighborhood.