Civic Index Case Study: Franklin, TN

Franklin, TN applied for and was recognized as an All-America City in 2020. The community was recognized for the strength of its civic capital as well as for community-driven projects that enhanced the health and well-being of the city through civic engagement. You can read about Franklin’s highlighted projects—On the Table, The Fuller Story and Get Fit Franklin—in their application summary.

After receiving recognition, the League encourages All-America Cities to use the Civic Index to solicit diverse perceptions about the city’s attributes. The Civic Index process can help communities to continue to live up to the All-America City designation.

Following recognition as an All-America City, Franklin Tomorrow—an independent, community-visioning nonprofit – expressed interest in initiating a Civic Index process. In 2018 and 2019 Franklin Tomorrow had hosted On the Table events to engage residents over a meal to share ideas and thoughts on the future of Franklin. While the effort was a success, Franklin Tomorrow wanted to use a new process to offer a different engagement opportunity.

“We initiated the Civic Index as a follow-up to the City of Franklin’s designation by the National Civic League as a 2020 All-America City. As the city’s partner in pursuing the All-America City designation, we wanted to delve deeper to create a baseline measure of civic capital, which has seven components.”  Mindy Tate, Franklin Tomorrow Executive Director.

League staff began working with Franklin Tomorrow to devise a plan and answer questions about the process. Franklin Tomorrow decided to host a series of in-person events in various outdoor locations in the city, as well as provide virtual conversations due to the ongoing pandemic. While the process was organized by Franklin Tomorrow, civic groups, neighborhood associations, and churches were all invited to host conversations. Additionally, facilitators were recruited and provided training using the Index’s Facilitator’s Guide.

While facilitators were being recruited and trained, Franklin Tomorrow collaborated with local research partner, Chandlerthinks, to convert the Civic Index Questionnaire into an online survey. Meanwhile, League President, Doug Linkhart, joined FrankTalks for the official launch of the process.

In late April through May, several groups of 10-15 residents participated in hour-long conversations held in different parts of the city, led by facilitators who guided them through conversations about the 7 components of civic capital. Following the conversations, participants completed the online self-assessment tool. Those unable to attend a conversation were given the opportunity to take the Civic Index self-assessment independently.

In a debriefing call with League staff, Mindy Tate, Franklin Tomorrow Executive Director, spoke about lessons learned and next steps. Tate indicated that the ongoing pandemic was a challenge when organizing in-person conversations and that an unseasonably cold Spring threatened some of the outdoor convenings. In the end, results indicated “a strong sense of civic pride in their community, while recognizing challenges exist in other component areas, such as embracing diversity and equity.” Additional results can be found on Franklin tomorrow’s website.

Regarding next steps, over 70 participants offered to participate in more targeted focus groups to discuss the findings of the conversations and surveys. Franklin Tomorrow hopes to host these conversations in the fall. Franklin Tomorrow also plans on sending postcards to new residents, welcoming them to Franklin and providing a list of ways they can get involved in civic life.

About the Civic Index 

Since it was first developed in 1986, many communities have used the Civic Index to better understand their civic strengths and to identify gaps or areas in need of further attention, soliciting community input to create a baseline measure of their civic capital and monitor progress over time as they work to enhance their internal capacity.

Now in its 4th iteration, the Civic Index was created over 30 years ago as a self-assessment tool consisting of a set of questions that provide a framework for discussing and measuring a community’s civic capital – the formal and informal relationships, networks and capacities that enable communities to solve problems and thrive. The Index measures the problem-solving capacity of a community, particularly when it comes to tough challenges like health, education, racial equity and economic prosperity. The tool is best used by independent entities, like community nonprofits and foundations, which can gather community members in neutral and non-threatening environments to gather a variety of viewpoints on the strengths and challenges of the community.

The Seven Components of Civic Capital

The Civic Index describes the seven components of civic capital, provides examples of each, lists the 32 questions that are used to gauge each component and provides ideas on how to use the index. Here’s a synopsis of these seven components.

  1. Engaged residents
    • Residents play an active role in shaping decisions and civic affairs.
  2. Inclusive community leadership
    • The community actively cultivates and supports leaders from diverse backgrounds and with diverse perspectives
  3. Collaborative institutions
    • There is regular collaboration among the government, business, nonprofit and other sectors.
  4. Embracing diversity and equity
    • The community recognizes and celebrates their diversity, and strives for equity in services, support and engagement.
  5. Authentic communication
    • Credible civic-minded sources present information in a way that residents can use.
  6. Culture of engagement
    • Residents, businesses, nonprofits and other stakeholders are involved in every aspect of civic affairs.
  7. Shared vision and values.
    • The community has civic pride and a common foundation for addressing public matters.

City governments, foundations and non-profits can all work with stakeholders to convene a Civic Index process. Index gatherings can be done as a single large community summit, or a series of smaller meetings held in different parts of the community over a period of months. The Civic Index process can help a community learn about itself, improve its civic capital, and increase civic pride.

Email [email protected] if you would like advice or assistance on how to use the new Civic Index in your community.

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