Study Shows Room for Improvement at Indy Council
A new study from the Indiana University Public Policy Institute has identified several ways to improve the effectiveness of the Indianapolis-Marion County City-County Council. Researchers from the Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU conducted the five-month study at the request of Council President Vop Osili. Amanda Rutherford, an assistant professor at the O’Neill School in Bloomington, says the report will “help the council to consider strategic changes” to boost its effectiveness.
The study was conducted from June to October 2019 by Rutherford and Cullen Merritt, an assistant professor at the O’Neill School at IUPUI. The researchers collected information through an online survey of city and county residents, citizen focus groups and interviews with city and county leaders.
The online survey had about 600 participants, which Rutherford says reported higher levels of trust for the council than state and federal officials. “That generally corresponds with what we see is a national trend in research and so that’s an area that is worth the council thinking about in terms of the trust that is placed in them to do a variety of things.”
The survey also touched on representation in the council. “The council was typically viewed as most representative along the lines of race, ethnicity and personal values both at the council level as well as individual councilors, and less so along the lines of gender representation and socioeconomic status,” said Rutherford.
The researchers held five citizen focus groups, which included a total of 28 people who discussed a variety of topics, including council responsibilities and effectiveness, as well as local policy issues. Additionally, 29 interviews were held with city and county leaders, including several councilors, representatives from the executive and judicial branches, as well as the private and nonprofit sectors.
“Collecting information in multiple ways and in different settings enabled us to conduct an objective and well-rounded assessment of the council,” said Merritt.
After collecting and analyzing the information that was collected, Merritt and Rutherford identified four key areas of improvement for the council:
- Better utilize technology to connect with constituents. The council could make better use of technology to communicate with stakeholders and should consider reviewing its website to improve navigation to information. Additionally, the council should consider how to enhance access for residents who can’t use the council’s online platforms.
- Increase strategic outreach and public communication. The council should consider engaging in outreach efforts with constituents by working with media, creating newsletters, and using social media to offer substantive council updates.
- Maximize operating efficiency by considering staffing and compensation levels. The limited number of paid staff members may impact how much the council can achieve in a given year. Furthermore, increased compensation may allow those elected to devote more time to serving constituents.
- Review strategies to engage and collaborate with local agencies and organizations. Interviews with city-county agency leaders showed they wanted to both learn from and educate councilors on issues specific to their agencies.
Merritt says members of the council were briefed this week on the results of the study.
“The report is purely a recommendation of things that we hope they will consider; we can’t control what they do,” said Merritt. “But I should say that during the briefing, the tone of that conversation was one of interest (and) curiosity. It was my sense that the councilors will take this report very seriously. What they will do with it, we don’t know. But it’s clear that they are committed to using this objective information to better serve their communities.”
You can view the full study by clicking here.
Assistant Professors Cullen Merritt & Amanda Rutherford explain the recommendations drawn from the study.