Building a two-way dialogue between City Hall and residents

Name: Adrienne Holloway

Title: Chief Innovation Officer

City: Aurora, Ill.

Here’s one lesson COVID-19 has taught us: City Halls that invest in building strong community relationships before a crisis are able to innovate faster during it. That’s something Adrienne Holloway has long known to be true, which is why she was convening a youth council, education commission, and a board for faith leaders in Aurora well before the pandemic hit. “We were looking for a way for the city to engage with populations in a much more intentional way than we had in the past,” Holloway said. “The idea is for information we gather from each group of stakeholders to inform our policies and programs — and also help us communicate city priorities through leaders who have deep connections in the community.”

The approach paid immediate dividends when COVID-19 put thousands of residents out of work and created new and deep needs for social services. In particular, Holloway was able to match her interfaith group, whose congregations wanted to help, with nonprofits that were struggling to keep up with food distribution demands and other needs.

One of many connections this work facilitated was between a family-services organization that had run out of baby formula and a food pantry that had plenty of formula but no way to distribute it. The two groups worked together to distribute the formula to families who needed it. “If we didn’t bring those organizations together, this probably would not have happened,” Holloway said. “The space we created was designed for that.”

Pro tip: “If you ask residents a question, be ready to do something with the answer. If you don’t return that investment they’re making, then you’re not developing trust between City Hall and that resident.”