You need a bond issue passed-is your community ready to vote for it?
Ruth W. Edwards, Ph.D., Director, Tri-Ethnic Center for Prevention Research, Colorado State University, Ft. Collins, Colorado
John R. Briggs, P.E., Project Manager, Department of Public Works, Greeley, Colorado
The Community Readiness Model can help you "do your homework"—assessing readiness of the community to back your issue and guiding efforts to raise readiness and develop community-wide support. The model is a simple, intuitive model used by individuals and groups across the country to assess their community's readiness to support a wide range of community issues. These issues have included prevention of drug use among youth, increasing support for open space, getting support for animal control ordinances, etc. Understanding the concept of community readiness and how to utilize knowledge of readiness to garner support within the community can significantly increase the potential for success of your issue. More importantly, when most voters are at lower stages of readiness, starting with trying to sell a bond issue may raise more resistance than support. In these difficult economic times, voters are generally not anxious to increase public debt unless they see a clear benefit that has relevance to them.
The Community Readiness Model identifies different stages of readiness using six dimensions: a) existing community efforts; b) the community's knowledge about these efforts; c) leadership; d) the overall community climate; e) knowledge/awareness of the issue within the community; and f) resources (people, time, space, etc.) available to address the issue. The model then gives suggestions for strategies that are appropriate to reach the voting public based on readiness stage. Each of the six dimensions will have a level of readiness associated with it, and identifying the dimensions where readiness is lower than the others can help you target your efforts to move things along more quickly.
Being involved in the day-to-day realities of dealing with a problem in your community like inadequate budgets for street improvements, need for renovation of older areas, bursting-at-the-seams cultural centers, etc., you may believe a bond issue is the only way to solve the problem. It's obvious to you, your staff, and maybe a number of others in various departments, but that's because it is your job to pay attention to it. How do you get the voters on the same page with you in understanding the need for funding and raise support for the bond issue?
1. Don't assume the majority of voters in your community even know about the problem you want to address with funding from a bond issue.
How do you gauge the community's "readiness" to support your bond issue? Use this simple model to do an assessment of where the community as a whole (and also different subgroups within the community) is with respect to the issue. Is it even on their radar? Do they have accurate information about it? What other community issues are competing with it in the minds of the voters? Are key leaders supportive?
2. Make sure your efforts for promoting your bond issue are appropriate for the community's stage of readiness.
After you have assessed the level of readiness of the whole community and different constituencies within it—use this information! Choosing strategies appropriate to the voting public's stage of readiness will get you the most "bang for the buck." For example, if most voters are in the early stages of readiness to address this issue, don't hold a town meeting—no one will come! This isn't an issue the community at large knows enough or cares enough about to come to a meeting. There are, however, many things you can do that will generate public interest and get the voters ready to support a bond issue.
Although there are nine stages addressed in the full model, the first four are most relevant for developing community support for a bond issue. Groups in communities all across the country have identified strategies for each stage that work to move their communities along in readiness to reach the desired goal.
No Awareness Stage - the vast majority of the community simply does not see the problem you want to address is a problem.
Goal: Raise awareness of the issue you want to address with funds from the bond issue (don't start campaigning for a bond issue yet).
Goal: To raise awareness that this is a local issue and that it needs to be addressed.
Goal: Raise awareness that the community can do something about the problem.
Goal: Raise awareness with concrete ideas on how to do something.
The most important point is to recognize the community's readiness level and use a step-by-step approach to move the public from where they are beyond at least the first three stages before asking them to vote to increase community debt. It is critical to success not to try to do too much too quickly. Of course, your issue must be defensible. The Community Readiness Model can't help you sell a bad idea. It can facilitate educating community voters to recognize a need that is real and that a bond issue will address the problem and is worthy of their support.
For more information on the Community Readiness Model, go to www.TriEthnicCenter.ColoState.edu and click on Community Readiness. A free, electronic copy of a manual, "Community Readiness - The Key to Successful Change" can be requested and articles about development and application of the model are free and can be downloaded. The manual includes the questions to ask in doing an assessment, how to score replies to the questions to arrive at a readiness score, and how to utilize the model to guide program and/or campaign development efforts.