Transparency and Equity Boosted with Surveys in Watertown, MA

Posted by Steve Machesney
Steve Machesney

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The City of Watertown, MA is leading the way when it comes to leveraging technology to better serve its residents. From standing up a constituent services team complete with a 311 system, to using FlashVote, a scientifically valid, done-for-you resident survey solution, this small city is taking its citizen engagement game to the next level.

Small Town Feel with Big City Amenities

Watertown is a vibrant Boston suburb with a welcoming community of 35,000. Nestled on the Charles River, Watertown offers families and young professionals a small town feel with high urban amenities. It has a diverse mix of housing options - from historic single family homes that line Main Street to modern apartments in redeveloped factory buildings.


Popular gathering places like bustling coffee shops, bistros, and community parks give rise to Watertown’s lively sense of place. Residents are civically engaged, environmentally conscious and invest in strong public schools. Watertown prides itself on being a progressive community that looks after all of its neighbors.

We spoke with Chris McClure, Watertown's first-ever Chief Information Officer, about how the city is using FlashVote to increase transparency, provide equitable input to the policymaking process, and build trust with the community.

Informing Public Construction Decisions

When the city wanted input on designs for a new public pavilion in a local park, they used FlashVote to poll the over 1,000 residents enrolled in Watertown's FlashVote resident panel. Over 556 panelists weighed in through a short 2-3 minute survey to provide feedback on the proposed pavilion designs.

“There was some controversy over some of the designs and getting it right was important. FlashVote was instrumental in getting a sense of what people liked and not picking an unpopular design,” shared McClure.


He went on to add, “Showing officials and residents the data and methodology behind the selected design, even if it wasn't personally their favorite, increased confidence that the decision was made fairly and transparently.”

Guiding Communications Strategy 

Watertown also used FlashVote to ask residents how they prefer to receive information from the city. Officials then tailored their communications plan based on poll results showing which online and offline channels were most effective at reaching Watertown citizens.

Advice for Fellow Cities: Just Do It

When asked what advice he would give peers in other cities considering engagement tools, McClure emphasized the importance of just trying it out. Low-cost pilot programs like FlashVote can pay dividends in increased participation and community trust.

Watertown was able to secure full funding for its first year through a state grant before adding FlashVote to its regular operating budget. McClure highlighted grants as a great way to initiate innovative civic tech projects with minimal financial risk. If you're looking to boost civic participation and trust in your city like Watertown has, tools like FlashVote are worth exploring.


Tags: citizen engagement