Citizens Academies

Redwood City, CA



  • Redwood City, CA: Partnership Academy for Community Teamwork (PACT)
  • Population: 76,815
  • Years Offered: 7 (2003-present)
  • Signature Innovation: Department employees present information in an interactive format that breaks down government staff stereotypes

In 2003, PACT was created to address Redwood City's challenge of building community. Since the inaugural program, PACT has attempted to:

  1. Build community by fostering relationships among civic-minded citizens, and
  2. Educate the public about city government by presenting staff and information in a creative way.

Every spring, for nine weeks, about 35-40 citizen participants visit a city facility to learn more about a particular topic in a "non-threatening environment" (i.e. public safety, public works, city council, etc.). The staff strives for a welcome and comfortable environment; their motto is "meet, greet, seat, and eat." From 6-6:30pm, participants are broken into and rotate weekly between round tables and enjoy a full meal. They share something about themselves with other citizens and staff, such as their family history or how they became a resident of Redwood City.

Then, from 6:30-9pm, the interaction continues. Former city manager, Ed Everett, finds that "PowerPoints...[and] talking heads drive people to tears." Therefore, department employees, not managers, facilitate engaging sessions on their topic. After having prepared with the city manager (to ensure the format is interactive), staff might present their department in a number of ways, including:

  • Climbing a 150-foot fire ladder (fire department),
  • Fixing potholes or utility pipes (public works department), or
  • Playing a Monopoly-type game to consider zoning issues (planning department).

Another session is dedicated to two-and-a-half hours of roundtable discussion with city council. At tables of six or seven participants, council members are encouraged to listen and answer questions candidly as citizens engage with them.

This level of interaction and method of presentation helps break down citizen misconceptions that staff is incompetent. Citizens emerge from the academy realizing the high-caliber staff of their city; they may continue to disagree with how or why something is done, but they respect those who do it. Indeed, staff reports that those types of disgruntled or "gadfly" citizens are ideal candidates for the program.

First priority for selection is given to Redwood City residents and those who work in the community. The city explicitly allows and encourages non-residents to apply to build relationships, but some of these participants are put on a waiting list. The budget for the program is about $5,500, excluding staff time.

Redwood City reports tremendous success with PACT. Not only do many graduates go on to serve as appointed members of city boards and commissions, two have since joined city council. Further, the primary goal of building community capacity has had noticeable impact on the quality of life and engagement in Redwood City.


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