For many cities and counties, achieving STAR Certification is just the first step. After celebrating the accomplishment of certification, many communities start to think about how to use the data they have gathered. They ask, “What’s next? How can we use this information to benefit our community?”
This is just what the City of Plano, TX staff asked themselves last summer. Plano became a Certified 4-STAR Community in May of 2015, an impressive accomplishment, but like many other Certified Communities, they quickly started to look at the measures for which they were unable to receive credit.
Plano’s Deputy City Manager, Frank Turner, described the City’s certification by saying, “Participation in STAR has reenergized and refocused Plano’s sustainability program. Previously our efforts centered on recycling and diverting materials from the landfill. While these are important programs, sustainability requires a comprehensive approach. STAR provided the perfect template for inventorying and benchmarking our current efforts and charting a path for future action. We found STAR to be perfect in getting all city departments involved as well as many other community organizations.”
Plano’s city staff wanted to capitalize on this energy and reached out to STAR Communities and asked for a results report to better understand their score and also asked STAR staff to come to Plano and lead a workshop to help prioritize gap measures.
STAR Communities developed an in-depth report that looked at all 44 Objectives and highlighted both accomplishments and opportunities for improvement. The report provided a national context by using box-and-whisker graphs (below) to show where Plano’s score falls among all other certified communities. The box-and-whisker graph is divided into quartiles, with the middle division representing the median score and the outer ends on the “whiskers” representing the lowest and highest score. The smaller the box the closer the distribution of scores and a longer box means the scores are more dispersed.
STAR staff then traveled to Plano in September to lead 40+ representatives from the City in a half-day workshop and facilitate the prioritization of gap measures by city staff. Workshop participants included representatives from the fire department, chief of police, public works, city manager’s office, human resources, planning and zoning, environmental health, and more. The goals of the training were to:
- Provide local government staff with a national context for STAR certification;
- Identify gaps and areas for opportunity in Plano’s STAR certification, and
- Identify actions to be taken over the next year to address gaps and opportunities.
The workshop began with a 30-minute overview describing the STAR Community Rating System® evaluation measures and framework, to provide participants that were not involved in the data collection process with a high level understanding of how the rating system and certification works. After the introduction participants dove into the first of three exercises. First, participants reviewed and discussed Plano’s objective scores and voted for the objectives that they wanted to examine more closely. This narrowed down the list of objectives to analyze in depth from 44 to 12.
Next, the twelve prioritized objectives were divided up among tables in the room. Participants reviewed the lists of gap measures at each table and placed the actions onto a matrix that depicted impact and effort., then rotated tables and started the process over to provide feedback on all prioritized objectives. Finally, participants reviewed the matrices, identified trends, and identified the measures that the group had achieved consensus on moving forward.
The end result of the workshop was a list of actions to be pursued in coming years, developed by Plano staff. The facilitated decision-making process provided for a quick method of educating and gaining consensus among a large number of measures.
Rachel Patterson, the Environmental Health Director described the workshop as, “instrumental in engaging our stakeholders on a meaningful level, allowing us to use our STAR results to prioritize next steps on the path to an increasingly sustainable future.”
Some measures that Plano will be working on in the future include increasing walkability by increasing the mileage of sidewalks and requiring walkability standards for new developments; increasing water and energy efficiency in local government buildings; and develop a strategic plan to educate, train, and prepare residents for employment opportunities.