Summary of Listening and Learning Engagement Phase

By February 4, 2020July 22nd, 2020News, News_CompPlan

The Listening and Learning engagement phase was the first community input opportunity on the new Comprehensive Plan and Transit Plan. In this phase, discussion focused on two questions, “What does an ideal Durham look like to you?” and “What else is on your mind about Durham?” Demographic information was collected in each engagement to understand who we’ve heard from and who we still need to reachDemographic summaries for each part of this phase are being developed. 


At the last Outreach Team meeting in October, we asked you all to help invite community members into a new engagement effort, starting with the five Listening and Learning workshops in mid-November at different locations throughout Durham. This was the first part of the ENGAGEDurham process to update the Comprehensive and Transit Plans. With your help, we reached many more people, just in the workshops, than we have in recent Planning projects – about 375 residents participated in the workshops. 

 These sessions started with sharing general information on the two plans and then focused on small group discussions around two questions, “What does an ideal Durham look like to you?” and “What else is on your mind about Durham?” City and County staff were at each table to listen to community members and record the ideas and questions shared. 

At the end of each workshop, Staff asked workshop participants to provide some basic demographic information which was compared to overall data for Durham to figure out what groups in the community were not able to participate. This information then informed the work of the Engagement Ambassadors. Following the workshops, the work on the Ambassadors’ program began and an online survey was opened to gain additional input in this first phase of the project. 

1. Engagement Ambassadors 

The Engagement Ambassadors are community members who have been bringing input opportunities to underrepresented groups throughout Durham. This is an important part of the work toward equitable engagement and making sure all voices in Durham are heard. 

 Neighborhood Improvement Services (NIS) staff has been working with Planning staff to manage the Ambassadors program. Three training opportunities for interested Ambassadors were held in December and January. Invitations to participate were extended to:  

  • Everyone who expressed interest during the nomination period back in June of 2019 (including folks active on the Outreach Team); 
  • Those who had indicated interest to staff during the project; and 
  • Existing community contacts from Community Engagement staff (NIS). 

Approximately 40 ambassadors attended the training opportunities and were provided materials to conduct mini-Listening and Learning sessions. Additionally, ambassadors were asked to share their input on the two questions “What does an ideal Durham look like to you?” and “What else is on your mind about Durham?” during the training. 

Ambassadors receive a stipend for each input session they completed. Currently, we are working towards having 80 Ambassador sessions completed by mid-February. The first 30 sessions engaged over 200 people. 

 This is the first time the City and County have tried an Engagement Ambassador program. When the Ambassadors complete this round of engagement, we will be asking them to provide input on how the program could work better in the future. The goal is to make it easier for the Ambassadors and to improve accessibility for community member participation. 

2. Online Survey 

Following the Listening and Learning workshops in November, an online survey was published asking for input on the same questions discussed in the workshops. A press release announcing the survey was published the following week. In addition, the survey has been periodically highlighted on social media through the City of Durham accounts over the last two months. Planning staff, Outreach Team members, and Ambassadors have also been sharing the survey input opportunity with residents. The survey was open from mid-November 2019 through the end of January 2020. There have been just over 200 respondents to the online survey. 

What’s next? 

The next step in this work is to determine the Community Goals for the Comprehensive Plan and Transit Plan – to be adopted by the City Council and County Commissioners in August 2020. The input we receive from the community in this first phase of the engagement will form the Community Goals for these plans. 

In order to do so, Planning staff has been working to digitize all of the input shared so far. We are developing a process to identify common themes from the input to organize the information and make it more manageable for the community to review. Once all the information is digitized we will be summarizing the demographic information collected in all three input opportunities in the first phase and sharing that information back to the community. 

Planning staff is working with the City’s Office of Performance and Innovation team to design the engagement process where all of the community input is shared back to residents and used to co-create the Community Goals. This next phase of engagement is currently planned to begin in April of this year. We plan to have the Community Goals adopted, by the City Council and the County Commissioners, by late summer of this year. 

The overall timeline for the Comprehensive Plan project is below. The Plan is expected to take three years and includes four parts of the project that will be adopted along the way. The discussion around the plan will get more specific and details about future project parts will be provided as the project moves forward. The four project parts are: 

  • Community Goals – August 2020 
  • Equitable Development Framework – Spring 2021 
  • Future Land Use Plan – Summer 2021 
  • Plan policies (or recommendations) – April 2022