Voice Your Choice: Creating a Community Engagement Process for New Magnet Programs in Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools

Effective community engagement is critical in diverse organizations, such as school districts. However, current methods, including surveys, public hearings, and online forums, tend to lack transparency, feel like an afterthought, and do not reflect the actual demographics of the community. Civic technology has helped increase transparency, accessibility, and accountability between local communities and governments. In this case study, we describe the process of creating a seven-month-long community engagement process within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) to inform the design of new magnet programs or theme-based learning experiences. We applied concepts from in-the-wild HCI research to build novel civic engagement technologies ranging from interactive portals to facilitated small-group conversations. Over 400 participants provided input during the different stages of the process, which involved 48 small-group conversations and user interviews. A total of 961 stories and suggestions were gathered, resulting in 8 magnet programs. In our paper, we provide an overview of the community engagement process and our key reflections relating to trust, accessibility, and reaching historically underrepresented communities. We hope our learnings could be helpful for HCI researchers and practitioners who deploy community engagement initiatives. 

A paper on this work was recently submitted to CHI 2023 as a case study.