Committee for a Better New Orleans

CBNO is a multi-racial, multi-generational community organization, a catalyst and convener, working to bring all voices to the table to address systemic issues that will help to build a better quality of life for all New Orleanians. CBNO/MAC will accomplish its mission by providing and maintaining an advocacy role that encourages the kinds of partnership, collaboration and candid conversation that reflect the interests of the citizens of New Orleans.
Mar 12, 2012

March 2012 Project Report

Just as spring brings new growth to our world, spring is bringing to new progress to the New Orleans Citizen Participation Project.

Our District Council Pilot Project is moving ahead in partnership with the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association, which recently elected new leadership and restructured its committee system.  This has elevated levels of enthusiasm and participation, and the committees are meeting regularly.  In particular, we are assisting GCIA with rewriting its bylaws, which is a precursor to another piece we are collaborating on, working to obtain official nonprofit status for the organization.  We have also provided support for GCIA's communications and outreach, which in turn enhances the organization's ability to provide information and connectivity to its individual member neighborhood associations.  Also, thanks in part to the generosity of ESRI, we are making good progress in creating a consensus map of the neighborhood boundaries in Gentilly/Planning District 6.  Redoing the antiquated neighborhood boundary map in New Orleans is vitally important not just for advancing the Citizen Participation Project but also for several other critical city initiatives (including its accelerated outflow of information to the community), and Gentilly is serving as the demonstration project and testing ground for the methodology we propose to use citywide.

Good progress is also being made with our Latino Community of Interest pilot project.  Individual meetings have been conducted with over a dozen individual Latino community leaders, many of them faith leaders.  This in turn has led to the scheduling of multiple community outreach meetings in collaboration with these leaders.  Turnout at the first of these exceeded expectations, and we are now bringing the information about the CPP to an entirely new audience (including Spanish language informational materials).  We are in the final stages of developing a detailed survey for the New Orleans Latino community, focusing on community needs, attitudes towards government and government services, levels of (and barriers to) civic engagement, and the relationship between Latinos and their neighborhoods.  Once the survey is translated, it will be conducted in conjunction with our partner Puentes New Orleans and the community leaders.  The survey results will not only help us tailor the CPP message and reach more Latino community members, it will also provide information that we will share with city government regarding ways to more effectively outreach to, and provide services to, Latino individuals and families.

Most promising of all, New Orleans city government is using key aspects of the proposed Citizen Participation Program model to design civic engagement structures for the newly formed New Orleans Recreation Commission and Police Community Advisory Boards.  This work is being led by the city's Neighborhood Engagement Office and its director (and former director of Puentes) Lucas Diaz.  While opposition remains within some segments of city government to the overall CPP project and approach, we hope that proving its value within these two settings will overcome this resistance and help move towards a comprehensive approach to civic engagement.  While these two projects are going on, the City Planning Commission is developing internal policies for working with citizen input, which is a valuable corollary to the external civic engagement work.  Finally, we have been meeting with members of the New Orleans City Council to discuss the status of the overall work and how to build on this momentum; in addition, we are working with the Council members and the Neighborhood Engagement Office to identify an opportunity to do a pilot participatory budgeting process in the city.

While there are still challenges ahead, each of these victories -- large and small -- brings us another step down the path.  We are excited that the pilot projects are producing real benefits for our partners, and equally enthused to see initial signs of work taking root in city government.  We are grateful beyond words for the support we receive through Global Giving; every contribution not only enables our work but provides powerful encouragement as we face these challenges and take these individual steps forward.

Dec 22, 2011

2011 Year-End Report

The end of 2011 finds the New Orleans Citizen Participation Project (CPP) experiencing a mix of frustration and optimism.  The frustration comes because the indications at the beginning of the year were that New Orleans city government was going to adopt the CPP sometime this past summer and we could move into full implementation; unfortunately, a difference of viewpoints among several key city government entities pushed this timetable far back.  This apparently is the nature of systemic change, much of which by defnition has to include government and therefore politics, and requires so many different actors to get on to the same stage (and page!).

The optimism comes because the final quarter of the year saw considerable activity on parts of the CPP within city government and growing support in new communities and sectors within New Orleans.

Specifically, the city's Neighborhood Engagement Office, which was created in spring 2011 and whose inception was a major factor in the CPP delays, conducted an initial process for developing policies and procedures for city government agencies and departments to use citizen input in their decision-making.  While this does nothing to empower the community to provide this input, it is nonetheless a very important step.  For one, it demonstrates strong recognition on the part of city government that it should pay far more attention to community voices; for two, it begins creating a culture within the individual segments of government of valuing, using, and being accountable to citizen input.

On the heels of this, the City Planning Commission CPC) has just launched a similar process specific to its own operations.  This agency probably interacts more with citizens, and therefore needs more citizen input, than any other within the administrative branch.  Further, CPC staff is very aware of CBNO's work on the external CPP, and has supported and indeed contributed to the work.  At the public kickoff meeting for this process, dozens of citizens came out and advocated for including the external CPP with the internal procedure design work.  Both the Chair of the Planning Commission and the Executive Director have agreed to meet after the first of the year to discuss possible collaboration on these issues.  It helps greatly that the New Orleans City Council, in the city budget it adopted December 1, included funding in the Planning Commission budget specifically for a "community participation program", which Council members have confirmed to us is intended for the external component.

While all of this went on within City Hall, CBNO worked with various community groups to continue pilot program projects to refine the New Orleans CPP model and demonstrate to city government the value of the CPP.  Specifically, partners included the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association, a collection of neighborhood associations within the city's sixth planning district, demonstrating the District Council component of the CPP.  CBNO also worked with the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance on the Housing Community of Interest pilot and with Puentes New Orleans on the Latino Community of Interest pilot.  The Communities of Interest are a groundbreaking new approach to expanding citizen participation programs to include residents who do not typically participate in their neighborhood groups, and the work this year amply demonstrated both the need to be more inclusive and the potential of this approach to achieve this critical objective.

While the overall results this year fell short of hopes, we always prefer to aim high, push hard and see how far we get.  With an initial draft of internal city hall policies and procedures for working with citizen input in the mayor's hands for review, tangible progress was made on the government side.  The pilot projects provided both valuable insights on how to continue refining the New Orleans CPP model and great demonstrations of why each of the pilot components is integral to this model.  In the year ahead, we hope to maximize the opportunity to work with the City Planning Commission to meld the internal and external components, and ideally to bring the final, full-fledged model to the City Council for adoption.  As always, we appreciate greatly the support of those who stick with us as this highly challenging, exceptionally powerful work of creating systemic change and empowering community residents inches forward.

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Sep 21, 2011

NOLA CPP Project Update

Summer in New Orleans is traditionally a very slow time, but not for the New Orleans Citizen Participation Project this year!

Internal debates within city government slowed the city's process to produce the final NOLA CPP design, but we were privileged to work closely with the director of the Neighborhood Engagement Office, Lucas Diaz, to develop the scope of work and process for this critical phase.  Mr. Diaz added an important component that will focus on preparing city agencies and departments to work successfully with citizen input.  This will be one of five total components of the process, and we are very excited to announce that it will launch formally on September 26!

In the interim, we focused on one very important aspect of what the final CPP will include:  participatory budgeting.  Working with our partners in the New Orleans Coalition on Open Governance (NOCOG), we gathered information on the city's newly adopted "budgeting for outcomes" methodology.  The partnership then presented a "Budget Breakdown" public meeting, drawing well over 125 residents on a hot summer night to learn about the city budget process and how residents can have input to it.  Based in the attendance and the questions and comments that followed the presentation, the New Orleans city budget is not some dry, esoteric subject but a topic of real, vital interest to many New Orleanians.  We will be following up this fall with further presentations as well as advocacy training to prepare residents to give their input during the City Council's annual budget hearings in November.

In that the many volunteers who worked to design the draft NOLA CPP model identified participatory budgeting as a top priority from the very beginning, we are thrilled to see this piece of the project really take off.

NOLA CPP staff and volunteers will serve on the task forces that will steer the city's final design process over the next 21 months, and we will work diligently to keep the community as informed and engaged as possible throughout.  In particular, we will be working to bring as many people as possible to the public input phases of the project, particularly those community members whose voices are too seldom heard in these kinds of conversations.

We welcome any comments or ideas you may have as we move forward with this vitally important work.  Your support is essential to making the New Orleans Citizen Participation Program something that truly belongs to the people of New Orleans.

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