Gilbert earns national award for using public communication to inspire change

Above: The Heritage District combines Gilbert's older, historic assets and character with newer more progressive projects geared to meet modern-day trends and demands. (Photo courtesy of the Town of Gilbert) Business News | 3 Aug |

Today, Results for America announced that Gilbert, Arizona’s Office of Digital Government will receive the second annual Sharman Stein Award for Storytelling Changemakers. The award, which honors the memory of What Works Cities’ founding Director of Communications, recognizes a city team or official who draws on the power of public communication to cultivate trust and collaboration between local government and residents.

The annual prize is given by Results for America, a partner in What Works Cities, a Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative that helps cities use evidence and data to tackle their most pressing challenges.

“We are so proud to announce this award for the Town of Gilbert today – Sharman’s birthday,” said Simone Brody, Executive Director of What Works Cities at Results for America. “This recognition honors her life by celebrating cities like Gilbert that exemplify how governments and residents can collaborate to build a better future for us all.” 

“The Sharman Stein Award honors cities that use public communication not only to share information, but to build trust with residents and engage them in addressing shared challenges,” said Michele Jolin, CEO and Co-Founder of Results for America. “Gilbert’s robust and innovative digital communications strategy has helped the city connect with residents, share data on the government’s performance, and increase civic engagement.”

Stein’s belief in the power of storytelling to drive change was evident throughout her career. She spent decades working as a journalist for newspapers across the country before going on to lead communications for city agencies and nonprofits in New York City, before her time at What Works Cities. Stein passed away from ovarian cancer in May 2018.

Gilbert’s Office of Digital Government was selected as the winner of this year’s award because the team epitomizes Stein’s call for cities to tell stories of progress so as to build trust and invite the public to actively engage in civic life, which is especially important given the new challenges local leaders and residents face due to the coronavirus pandemic. The many notable accomplishments of the team include:

• Creating regular COVID-19 update videos with both the Mayor and City Manager to ensure residents have immediate, accurate information to stay safe.

• Ensuring City Hall has a relatable and engaging voice by creating the Digital State of the Town, an annually produced film that replaces a more traditional State of the City address, which typically has leadership presenting behind a podium.

• Founding the Government Gone Digital podcast to help residents understand how Gilbert is transitioning local government communications to digital, non-traditional means.

Launching Alex, an avatar that helps residents explore data on Gilbert’s Open Data Portal—including COVID-19 data—by highlighting stories and specific datasets. Through Alex, the city has increased civic engagement by conducting public surveys and publishing follow-up stories to illustrate for residents how their feedback was used to make decisions.

• Executing a robust communications strategy that spans the use of over 30 social media channels with an audience of over 170,000 followers, a pioneering example of resident-focused communications in a city where the average age of residents is 32.

• Creating a Data Content Strategist role, formalizing the city’s culture of telling stories with data to maintain strong two-way engagement with residents.

• Sharing their knowledge and expertise with other cities working to create a culture of resident-focused digital communications. In 2018, Gilbert led a webinar with What Works Cities to help other cities explore the unique and innovative ways that cities can connect with residents through video and social media.

“Through storytelling we have the ability to showcase how government works and to engage our community. Amplifying our messaging by using all of our outreach channels to tell meaningful stories impacts lives and builds trust in our government when our community needs it most. I’m so proud to be a part of a team that’s focused on doing exactly that,” said Dana Berchman, Chief Digital Officer in Gilbert. “We had the pleasure of meeting and working with Sharman Stein. Her love for storytelling and passion for connecting government to the community was so evident. She didn’t want to just hear about the work we were doing in Gilbert; she wanted to see it for herself—to experience and truly understand it. We are humbled and honored to receive this award in her name.”

Team Members of Gilbert’s Office of Digital Government include:

• Dana Berchman, Chief Digital Officer

• Jessica Bautista, Digital Journalist 

• Zara Bish, Multimedia Analyst

• Melissa Cannon, Data Content Strategist

• Brenda Carrasco, Police Digital Media & Marketing PIO

• Jennifer Harrison, Deputy Director

• Eva Kirschbaum, Parks & Recreation Digital Marketing Coordinator

• Derek Konofalski, Data & Technology Analyst

• Lauren Oxford, Digital Communications Strategist

• Kelsey Perry, Community Engagement Coordinator

• Kiley Phillips, Economic Development Marketing & Communications Administrator 

• Elizabeth Rohe, Digital Journalist

• Jennifer Snyder, Fire Digital Media & Marketing PIO

Winners of the Sharman Stein Award for Storytelling Changemakers are selected based on whether they embody the communications philosophy Stein championed; actively leverage modes of communication that reach residents with information about their city’s progress; and contribute to improved community trust, understanding, and/or engagement through their efforts. Last year, the City of Arlington (TX)’s Office of Communication was the inaugural winner of the award. 

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