In My Town, Civic Engagement Intersects Love and Innovation

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Having resided in Purcellville, Va. since 2006, my family and I settled here because we have always loved its balance of old and new and its small-town warmth.

Subsequently, during my five-year tenure as Purcellville’s mayor, I have made it my priority to engage all members of the community, to build upon our existing assets, and to develop a vision for our future.

Comprising a population of approximately 9,700 people, Purcellville—located fifty miles west of the nation’s capital—is the economic and educational hub of western Loudoun County.

We have access to legacy farms, one of Virginia’s oldest hardware stores, antique shops, multiple dining choices, craft breweries, grocery stores, farm and garden depots, several schools, a liberal arts college, plus a Makerspace.  Here, people are where history intersects with progress, and they prosper.

For many towns the size of Purcellville or even smaller ones, generating feedback and inspiring civic engagement may have proven to be difficult.  Clearly, online surveys are not always reliable.  How do we know that one angry resident isn’t answering multiple times?

Further, beyond our borders here in Virginia, many cities and towns nationwide still rely on more traditional methods to engage with their residents.  We have learned, however, that response rates to phone surveys and postcard mailers have steadily been decreasing as Millennials and Zillennials grow up and technology moves onward.

This is why I was honored in January 2017 when a young crowdsourcing tech company called Polco chose Purcellville as its birthplace and gave us a real-time citizen polling system.

Nick Mastronardi, CEO of Polco, once wrote that “the [Town] of Purcellville wanted the community to be informed on many key initiatives and feel a part of the decision-making process.”

Yes, we wanted our decision-makers to have a strong pulse on community opinions and needs for these key decisions.  Hence, from our experience with this new civic technology, Purcellville saw love both received and returned.

Creating online polls to encourage and to increase civic engagement, Polco allows mayors and offices of cities, towns, and villages to ask voters for feedback on certain issues to which residents can respond online.  Polco then reports back to the Town of Purcellville about the data to let us know who is or isn’t a registered voter, and who actually lives here.

This type of civic engagement has moved Purcellville further along on a path to improve active participation with our government and to move our town forward.

I have a responsibility to our residents and business owners to show them how their time, and engagement has an impact. As Mayor, I am actively working to place the needs of Purcellville’s citizens first to preserve their quality of life and also to create lasting love for our town.

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About the Author: Kwasi Fraser is the mayor of Purcellville, Va. To learn more about how the Town of Purcellville engages with its community, visit its town hall here