Building a Culture of Engagement – Somerville, MA

Project at a Glance

  • Issue Area Community vision and values, Immigrant integration
  • Engagement Approaches Digital engagement, Embedding a culture of engagement, Engaging non-English speakers
Project Description

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As Somerville has changed from a largely white, working- and middle-class community to a dynamic, diverse and vibrant urban hub of arts and innovation, so has our need for and means of communicating with our diverse constituency.


Ensuring civic engagement is at the center of all decisions is a priority in Somerville, even with the unique challenge of 52 different primary languages among residents. SomerViva! was created for outreach efforts to non-English speakers and shaped by extensive input from the immigrant community itself. The program aims to improve access to services citywide, and to encourage and guide ongoing efforts to better serve the immigrant community, while also opening channels for greater participation by these residents. The program is shaped by extensive input from the immigrant community itself, who have guided us with advice on how best to engage them, how to communicate with them, and what they need from us.


Sustaining meaningful dialogue is a key strategy in Somerville; combined with Somervill’s SomerStat model for data-driven management and 311 Constituent Service Center, feedback from meetings is tracked in real-time, reported back to constituents via multiple media channels to ensure a continuous feedback loop that also holds municipal government accountable to residents.


Community budgeting is another civic engagement principal in Somerville; residents receive information on the city budget and the budgeting process and participate in brainstorming sessions for programs and services via the SomerVision Comprehensive Planning process. The comprehensive planning process was a three year investment to engage the whole community to create more than 40 strategic goals for Somerville’s future.


Not only does the planning process engage residents, but also the implementation process through Somerville by Design which brings the plan to neighborhood scale. The schools also take a community solving approach by gaining input from parents and students on curriculum and school services. Creating access to leadership also helps Somerville gain input from all residents; three targeted free leadership trainings are offered by the city.


Somerville is 3-time winner of the All-America City Award. Click here for more information on the All-America City Award 

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