A commitment to equity is foundational to successful community engagement. District councils have relied on the Innovation Fund since its creation in 2014 to convene staff, residents and city officials to work toward more equitable engagement across Saint Paul. The first project, Dialogue to Action, built off a previous Cross-Cultural Dialogue project, to create specific equitable engagement strategies for three city departments--Police, Parks & Recreation and Planning & Economic Development--through collaboration with community members. You can read more about that process and its outcomes here. In 2017, the Innovation Fund supported the Equity Planning Process project that empowered a cohort of district councils to work through a cooperative process to develop equity goals for their organizations. This work, summarized here, was acknowledged as a statewide achievement and received a 2017 Minnesota Local Government Innovation Award.
At the end of 2017, the district councils proposed a change to the Community Engagement Program's Innovation Fund in order to focus on equitable engagement. The fund is now divided equally among the 17 district councils to promote equitable practices and neighborhood outcomes. The goals of this program are:
- District council staff and volunteers more accurately reflect the communities they serve.
- District councils review and adopt policies and practices that intentionally create space for residents who are currently under-represented.
- District councils pursue systemic work that reflects the needs and priorities of residents who have been historically under-represented.
Additionally, district council staff are required to participate in a peer support/best practices network composed of district councils or similar grassroots, place-based organizations in the region.