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City Hosts Second 'What's Next, Alexandria?' Dialogue

Incorporating online participation, the civic engagement-focused meeting Tuesday night drew close to 200 residents.

Alexandria officials hosted the second “What’s Next, Alexandria?” dialogue both in-person at the First Baptist Church of Alexandria and online through live video streaming and online chat Tuesday evening.

The online table, hosted by Craig Fifer, a deputy directory of communications for the City of Alexandria, focused on “accessible and informed participation.”

“What’s Next, Alexandria?” is a city initiative that aims to bring local residents into city discussions and planning processes through a series of community dialogues. In addition, it seeks to start discussions about how Alexandrians can best participate in shaping the city’s future.

The 20 residents participating online focused, naturally, on online options for civic engagement.

“At the same time we're gathering input for this project, we're able to test tools that can be used in other planning projects in the future,” Fifer said in an email to Patch after the event.

One woman in the online chat suggested that as part of future engagement efforts, city officials should offer residents "options for providing testimony or other input in an asynchronous fashion—e.g., providing video testimony that can be played at Council meetings without the person present.”

Another suggested, “The key is flexibility—offering options that maximize the ability for citizens to participate regardless of time and location.”

All participants—in person and online—then took about an hour to discuss how best to create engagement and dialogue in the city planning process. The conversation revolved around how to best to gather information, develop and evaluate options, present recommendations and move forward with implementation.

“This was really an experiment to see whether we could create an online parallel to existing in-person exercises, and whether we could create meaningful engagement through a virtual meeting. I think what we saw tonight was that there is definitely interest from the community in having these kinds of opportunities, and it doesn't take anything fancy to provide them. When we engage people in a variety of ways, it helps ensure that we include folks who can't make it to an in-person meeting, or who just feel more comfortable participating in a different way,” Fifer said.

City officials plan to continue to incorporate online elements into the “What’s Next, Alexandria?” process.

The next "What’s Next, Alexandria?" meeting will be in March.

For more on "What's Next, Alexandria?", see:

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