Engagement Ambassadors Program

Work on the new Comprehensive Plan started in the summer of 2019. As this work began, the City’s Equitable Community Engagement Blueprint was being developed and the City and County both were beginning to work towards more equitable engagement. Through early conversations with the Neighborhood Improvement Services Department, Planning staff established a commitment to work towards equitable engagement for the Comprehensive Plan based on the Blueprint. A primary way we have worked towards more equitable engagement has been through the Engagement Ambassador Program, which centers input coming through the Engagement Ambassadors’ community engagement in the Comprehensive Plan. 

What is the Engagement Ambassador Program? 

The Engagement Ambassador program involves recruiting residents with connections to marginalized communities in Durham to directly engage their neighbors, friends, and family members to shape the new Comprehensive Plan. Ambassadors receive a stipend for this work to try to remove some of the barriers that marginalized communities in Durham face when engaging with local government. Another focus of the program is to hear from Ambassadors on how to improve the program, to change our approach to address and reflect that input, and to keep working towards more equitable development in each iteration. 

Who are Engagement Ambassadors? 

Engagement Ambassadors are residents who hold one or more of these identities: 

  • Residents who live in Durham Housing Authority properties 
  • People who have had housing insecurity
  • People who are low income 
  • Youth 
  • Seniors 
  • People with Disabilities 
  • Public Transit Riders with no regular access to a car 
  • Latino/Hispanic residents and residents of color 
  • People who are or have been justice involved 
  • Residents of Bahama, Rougemont, and of rural or unincorporated parts of northern Durham County 

Ambassadors are recruited to help make connections to parts of our community that staff may not be able to successfully engage, often because of a lack of trust. Ambassadors are engaging underrepresented communities they are in relationship with to make sure these residents are included in the process and that their voices are heard.  

Engagement Ambassador Program Timeline 

Fall 2019 – Winter 2020
Directly following the initial Listening and Learning public workshops for the new Comprehensive Plan, Planning staff, with support from Neighborhood Improvement Services, began recruiting residents to participate in the first Engagement Ambassadors Program. For this first version of the program, staff developed engagement materials that were then shared with Engagement Ambassadors to bring to their communities. This engagement took the form of small discussion sessions where residents shared what their ideal Durham would be like and what else was on their mind about Durham. Approximately 40 ambassadors participated in training sessions and went on to engage over 600 residents through this phase of engagement. This input from Engagement Ambassadors was centered as staff worked to draft Community Goals and Objectives for the new Comprehensive Plan. 

Fall 2020 – Winter 2021
The second iteration of the Ambassador program involved two rounds of engagement to get resident input on the draft Community Goals and Objectives. Staff worked with the Transit Plan team and their engagement consultant, Aidil Ortiz, in this iteration of the program. Residents were asked to provide input to inform both the Transit Plan and the Comprehensive Plan in one engagement opportunity. In the fall, 36 ambassadors engaged 174 residents on the draft housing and neighborhoods and sense of place objectives. In the winter, 28 ambassadors engaged 469 residents on objectives related to community relationships, environment, public spaces and recreation, transportation, education, jobs and training, and health and wellbeing. The input from residents on these drafts informed edits to the Community Goals and Objectives that were intended to ensure they reflect our residents’ vision for our community. 

Fall 2021 – Winter 2022
In the third iteration of the Ambassadors program, in response to resident feedback, ambassadors were recruited prior to designing engagement so that Engagement Ambassadors could be involved in designing engagement strategies and materials. Planning staff continued work with Aidil Ortiz for this iteration and staff, Aidil, and the Ambassadors co-developed engagement questions focused on getting resident input for the Place Type Map.  In conversations with staff and Aidil, ambassadors identified locations and methods they planned to use to engage folks in their communities. The Ambassadors determined the type of materials that staff and Aidil then worked together to develop and provide. 

Planning staff is committed to continuing to hear from Ambassadors and other residents on how this approach can be modified and improved and working towards implementing those changes. We anticipate another iteration of the Ambassadors program will occur in the Spring of 2022, focused on getting resident input on draft policy recommendations for the new Comprehensive Plan.