In 2004, the Durham City and County governments together decided on a list of priorities contributing to the overall quality of life in the community. The goals were developed into Priority Outcomes, each addressing a specific area such as health, children, and public safety.
As part of the annual budget process, the City Council and Board of County Commissioners come up with priority outcomes; because there was enough overlap, they two governments agreed to join forces for this endeavor, which became the Durham Results-Based Accountability Initiative.
Citizens came forward as volunteers to form community workgroups in each of these areas, and the results of their efforts have been tracked, measured, and reported by the Initiative.
To date, over 350 citizens have participated in committee workgroups, most of them on a regular basis, according to Julie Brenman, Assistant City Manager for Budget & Strategic Initiatives.
She says that Durham has increased both public awareness of the initiative and involvement in the process through a number of venues – web site, newspaper, cable access channel, word of mouth, and press releases. But no single method alone works.
Heidi York, Assistant County Manager, agrees. “(The web site) has definitely helped, but really, the more opportunities we have to spread the message to the community, the more involvement we see.”
The year’s progress is published in an an annual “Results Based Accountability Report,” which includes a review of each of the eight priority outcomes – specifically, “what works” or “what would it take to improve” each outcome. For example, for the stated outcome “All Durham citizens are safe,” the report provides two indicators: violent crime data and public perception of safety (based on opinion poll). Each indicator is then accompanied by a list of low-cost strategies for improvement in that area.
The report – an intersection between accountability and citizen participation – not only serves as a means to report progresss, but also to keep residents informed, and encourage future participation in the process.