Speak Up Bradenton Receives Knight Cities Award



For the second time in three years, an initiative from Bradenton has won a Knight Cities Challenge award, rising to the top of more than 4,500 proposals from across the country and sharing $5 million in funding with the 32 other winners. Conceived and proposed by Simone Peterson, a specialist in the Manatee County Neighborhood Services Department, Speak Up Bradenton, the winning initiative, calls for an inversion of the government/citizen dynamic in hopes of stimulating public input.

Working in local government, public input is a must, says Peterson, but also a continual challenge to get. The fault, she believes, is not a disengaged populace, but a flawed method of communication. The government asks for input, but public meetings are most often at 6pm on a weeknight, when people are just getting off work and parents need to look to children and the night’s meal. Commission meetings are at 9am on Tuesdays, when most are at work. All too often, the public only becomes aware of a new project or program once the planning is complete and there’s little to offer but approval or complaint. “We want to get them more involved in the beginning,” says Peterson. “We want to involve them in the decision-making.”

Speak Up Bradenton solves this problem by sending the government to the people, instead of asking them to come to the government. Employees will go out into the community, to areas where people already congregate or have to travel through, like malls, bus stops and more locations currently being decided. Once there, these representatives will not only inform the public as to projects in development, but also seek input on the spot and facilitate offering input later through the internet or other means. “The more informed people are,” says Peterson, “the better decisions they can make to make our community a better place to live, work and play.”

Launched in 2014 by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Knight Cities Challenge annually awards funds to proposals around the country that work to make cities more successful either through talent retention and attraction, building economic opportunity or promoting civic engagement. By breaking down barriers between community and government, Peterson’s Speak Up Bradenton initiative represents an innovative step in stimulating such civic engagement, says Knight Foundation Community Foundations Program Director Lilly Weinberg. “This idea really gets to the heart of it,” she says. “It’s an experiment in many ways.”

With the proposal receiving $32,000 from the Knight Cities Challenge award, Peterson hopes to see the first Speak Up Bradenton ambassador out in the community by September or October.

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