How Grand Forks Mobilizes Its Residents for Fall Leaf Collection

Elena Elisseeva / Shutterstock.com

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

This North Dakota city’s website plays a central role.

“This town is really into the leaf-collection program,” says John Bernstrom, spokesman for Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Residents check the town website throughout the fall. It includes a map that tracks which neighborhoods the leaf crew is working, which neighborhoods it has already visited and which neighborhoods it’s going to work next. Residents want to get the timing just right, so they can rake the maximum number of leaves onto the berm between the sidewalk and the street before the crew comes through and vacuums up the street-long piles of rustling leaves.

The website includes text on how the program works as well as a short video.

“It’s that time of year again,” says in a polite voiceover. “The annual vacuum leaf collection  . . . Just another example of how this city works !”

Something about the polite voiceover and the street-side vacuuming technology—a large rubber tube manipulated by a sort of pitchfork attached to a slow-moving city truck—recalls 1950s sci-fi television-style technology, a labor-saving device conceived in the pre-digital era.

But that’s the leaf collector. Communications for Grand Forks, on the other hand, are fully digital and sophisticated in small ways that make a difference.

“There is an attitude in Grand Forks that makes the difference,” says Ashley Fruechting, senior director of strategic initiatives at Santa Monica, California-based Vision Internet , a consultancy that has helped more than 700 state and local governments take their communications online.

“Grand Forks has done a great job. They are motivated and there’s a real evolution in seeing, you know—a view that things don’t have to be done the way they have always been done.”

The Grand Forks leaf-collecting map is a top traffic driver for the city website. The site is mostly a public information portal, but it’s also partly a news and entertainment outlet.

It streams city council meetings, hosts budget documents and job announcements. It offers videos from around town. Communications staff post on Twitter and Facebook every day, and the posts at those sites are tailored to accommodate the different demographic groups those technologies draw—college kids and young-adult males on Twitter and the majority women users between 25 and 44 on Facebook. The Grand Forks website draws an average of more than 65,000 page-views per month, which is very good for a town that’s home to 55,000 residents, the third largest in North Dakota.

Fruechting says Grand Forks did the math. The city knows that the average transaction with the public conducted offline costs $17 and that the average cost of an online transaction comes to $4.

“There’s so much more self-serving going on online, so that, even with a small staff, you have multiple transactions going on at once and so much more bang for the buck. Having a creative, responsive web presence just makes a city so much more relevant to its residents. Most people conduct so much of their daily life now online. Why should government be different?”

Fruechting says that, in her experience, the main factor in a local government that translates to high-end digital communications is a view of government that rates public service as a top priority.

“It’s not the size of the city or the money, even,” she said. “It’s embracing the idea that the community needs to know what you’re doing and why, that the more the community knows the better. There is a sense at the top that it’s the government’s responsibility to share public information.”

Grand Forks spokesman Bernstrom says the city’s ratcheted-up Web presence is centered on an $18,000 website that Vision Internet helped the city build in 2014. The site now runs pretty much on its own, with the city’s three-person communications staff adding features—like the leaf-collecting map—as it feels the need.

“We had this old site, really from the era where you just had to get something online. It had totally hit its limit,” he says. “For years, we had been taking pitches from vendors on how to improve it, but the city didn’t want to spend the money. [City Administrator] Todd Feland had a lot of ideas and he finally just said, ‘I’m sick of hearing ‘No.’ Let’s get this done.’

“So, we pitched a whole new website to the city council. We said ‘What you’ll be paying for is the city’s only 24/7 employee. The site will always be on the job.”

Bernstrom says his office hasn’t phased out traditional public relations. Staff still write press releases and take phone calls. He says he has a regular spot on the radio each week. But he says the news media increasingly is turning to the city social media feeds to find out what’s going on in government.

“We had a water main break this week. We thought we should fire off a press release, but really  there were no road closings. It wasn’t a big deal. So we just went out and took a quick video of the crew at work and posted it on Facebook. All of the news outlets were then reporting the story from the video, like, ‘According to the city’s Facebook page.’”

As is the case with employees in all variety of industries today—journalism, public relations, marketing—the communications staff in Grand Forks has found that their job now includes regularly “feeding the beast” that is the Internet.

“Oh, yeah. We’re always working on the site, thinking about what we can post. You can’t build a website and walk away. It’s alive. It’s hungry. But it’s a balance, too. It seems like the more we put online, the less phone calls we get.”

The staff asks city departments to contribute regularly.

“The great thing is that now we can be pro-active. We can say, ‘These roads are closed.’ We can warn of rising rivers in the spring—that’s a big thing around here.”

Bernstrom added that people come to the site for the informal short road-repair-style videos and for the leaf-collection map, but that they stay for the city council video and the budget proposals.

“They come to know that all of that transparency material is there on the website—and traffic for that really ticks up now when hot topics are being debated.”

John Tomasic is a journalist based in Boulder, Colorado.

NEXT STORY: New York City Launches Program to Distribute 100,000 Smoke Detectors

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.