John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Some Ideas for Improving Township Communications with Residents

Some Ideas for Improving Township Communications with Residents

One positive outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is the increased use of technology like Zoom to improve communications between Newtown Township and residents primarily because many more people are attending Zoom Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings than in-person public meetings. In fact, 94 people attended one contentious BOS Zoom meeting! That's probably more than can fit into the public meeting room even if social distancing restrictions were lifted.

Despite the use of Zoom technology - which may not continue after COVID - there is a long-term need to improve communications between the township and residents. This is something that the Newtown Finance Committee (NTFC) asked for at the recent March 15, 2021, BOS Work Session. Shelly Howland, NTFC Chair, presented a plan for how the NTFC would like to work with BOS to improve the budgeting process. She mentioned the need for a public information/communication plan to support the NTFC as well as the Economic Development Committee (EDC) in reaching out to the public. Listen to her comments here (beginning at  the1 hour 13 minute timestamp).

Some Suggestions

I was asked by EDC member George Skladany to provide information about how the Newtown Twp website compares to other local municipality websites. See below for relevant links to that PLUS other communications ideas I have brought before the BOS and Township Manager in the past.

  • "How Does Newtown Township's Website Stack Up?" - my analysis of a report/study done by the Bucks County Courier Times. NT's website is competitive with the sites of other municipalities. However, aside from the Police and Parks and Rec Departments, NT does not do so well in using social media technology to communicate with residents.

Pull Versus Push

I mentioned to the EDC members the importance of "Push" technology versus the "Pull" technology of websites. Email is the major "push" technology but it is problematic in terms of open rates. My email newsletter service has nearly 600 subscribers, which is excellent. But (1) it takes a LONG time to get this many subscribers! See below for ideas how NT can get email subscribers; and (2) The average open rate is about 33% per email blast. To get a higher percentage (e.g., up to 75%) of subscribers to open email, it is necessary to send out the same email message 3 or 4 times - first to all subscribers then only to subscribers who did not open the previous email. That too is a lot of work!

Mobile is the Best Push Technology

The best push technology these days is mobile texting. Everyone carries their cell phone with them all day and they see all texts. That is why the former Technology Committee and I recommended a service like Savvy Citizen, which pushes out notifications to mobile phone users in any specified area.

The COVID/Zoom Opportunity

Not mentioned above is the fact that since Newtown has been requiring pre-registration for most official Zoom meetings, it has been collecting names and email addresses as part of the process. I've mentioned to township officials that this information should be saved because it can be used to send out email notices in the future. According to privacy laws, one unsolicited email can be sent out to people who may not have opted in to receive it. That email can request an opt-in to a notification service - either an email notification service or a mobile phone service such as Savvy Citizen.

Join the NEW Technology & Communications Committee!

I revised the mission statement of the Technology Committee to include “improve communications between the Township and its residents” (Resolution 2018-R-11, March 28, 2018). It is now the "Technology & Communications Committee."

Currently, 4 people have signed on - they need to be officially appointed by the BOS. Since the committee can have "up to" 7 members, 4 would be sufficient to carry on official business. Technology & Communications Committee can help other committees with implementing ideas for better communication with residents. The first order of business would be to interview NTC and EDC committee members on their communication needs.

If you know of anyone who would like to serve on the Technology & Communications Committee - they don't have to be techies! - please have them submit a letter of intent and/or resume/description to Olivia Kivenko, oliviak@newtownpa.gov

Posted on 19 Mar 2021, 01:03 - Category: Communication

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The opinions expressed here are solely those of John Mack and do not represent the opinions of any other person or entity.
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