I had an exciting moment a couple of weeks ago. I walked home from work (ah, those pre-COVID days), opened the mailbox, and …
…The 2020 Census had arrived!
Now granted, I may find such things a little more exciting than average, because I’ve worked extensively with census data over the years and I’m acutely aware of the value of census data. But you should also be excited, because this is where you let the government know that you exist, and as Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up”.
Beginning on December 22, 2018, parts of the federal
government were shut down due to insufficient funding. After 35 days, the
longest government shutdown in United States history came to an end on the
afternoon of January 25, 2019. Although the shutdown has now ended, the effects
of it will continue to reverberate in Colorado.
One agency affected by the shutdown was the Department of the
Interior, which oversees the National Park system, including Colorado’s own
Rocky Mountain National Park. According
to the National Parks Conservation Association, “on an average day
in January, 425,000 park visitors spend $20 million in nearby communities.” Rocky
Mountain National Park technically remained open during the shutdown. However,
without federal workers to maintain the park, trashcans cans were deluged with
trash and roads remained unplowed, creating hazardous conditions for visitors.
In communities near Rocky Mountain National Park, such as Estes Park, business
owners noted they experienced a decrease in sales and business in general as
tourists and locals alike were unable to safely fully experience the national
park. While the winter season may not be the most lucrative time of year, the
decrease in revenue will undoubtedly leave some business owners with a
If you have walked through downtown Denver recently, you know that it is hard to miss the growing homeless population. Civic Center Park has become a meeting place for many in the homeless population—a place where they can gather to share stories, food, and cell phones. Each year, Denver conducts a “Point in Time” (PIT) survey that aims to count the number of people experiencing homelessness. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) conducts an annual Point-in-Time (PIT) survey to track the rate of homelessness across the nation. Individual cities are responsible for collecting the data, with assistance from Local Homeless Coalitions, and provide the data to HUD, as well as publish a local report. In Denver, the Metro Denver Homeless Initiative oversees the PIT survey. The 2018 Denver PIT survey found that 5,317 people are experiencing homelessness in the city and county of Denver, competing for a total of approximately 1,000 emergency shelter beds (MDHI 2018). This number is up from the PIT count of 3,336 homeless persons in 2017.
Over time, the city of Denver has taken various approaches to “solving” the issue of homelessness. In 2003, the Denver Department of Human Services published a report titled “A Blueprint for Addressing Homeless in Denver” which outlined a ten-year action plan aimed at ending “chronic homelessness in Denver that will also address homeless prevention and the enhancement of services for populations with special needs” (Denver Homeless Planning Group 2003: 4). In 2005, Proclamation 53 was signed by then-mayor John Hickenlooper, expressing official support for Denver’s Road Home program—an initiative to secure housing for the city’s homeless population. Despite these, and other, city initiatives the homeless population in Denver continues to grow and housing costs surge past national averages. While the numbers may seem bleak, one Denver non-profit has followed the path laid out by other major cities such as Seattle, WA and Austin, TX and searched for an innovative solution. This solution came in the form of tiny houses.
Tiny homes burst onto the scene in the early 2000s. Small, sometimes mobile, homes with sleek designs offered a minimalist housing solution to people seeking a break from the materiality of the modern world. In Denver, tiny homes are now being used to provide a safe housing solution for some of Denver’s homeless population. Beloved Community Village, located in Denver’s River North (RiNo) district, consists of 11 tiny homes, housing up to 22 people. The self-governing community opened in July 2017, operating as a 180-day pilot project. In January 2018, Beloved Community Village was forced to relocate after their six-month lease with the Urban Land Conservancy expired. Luckily, the community was able to relocate only 200 feet away onto another property owned by the Urban Land Conservancy. Unfortunately, the Urban Land Conservancy and the city of Denver have only officially approved another 180-day lease agreement for the tiny house village, leaving the permanency of Beloved Community Village in question.
According to Beloved Community Village website, the village’s purpose “is to provide a home base and safe place for those who are presently in Denver and have no other place to live. With this collection of secure and insulated homes, we provide a viable solution in the midst of the current housing crisis.” While Beloved Community Village has been successful thus far in living and embodying their purpose, one has to wonder whether the tiny home model can be expanded to accommodate even more homeless residents in the Denver-metro area and throughout the state of Colorado. In May 2018, the organization behind Beloved Community Village, the Colorado Village Collaborative, revealed they are actively working to open another tiny home community at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in downtown Denver. The new village will have eight tiny homes, designated specifically for women and transgender homeless residents.
Affordable housing remains a crucial need in Denver and across the nation, as housing costs continue to rise and wages continue to stagnate. Cities and towns must face this problem head-on and work to understand how and why their communities are affected in order to develop strategies and initiatives to tackle homelessness. Homelessness is only one problem though and does not exist in isolation, thus cities need to ensure they understand the greater context and vulnerabilities unique to their community. The issues involved span everything from zoning laws and development to population growth and migration to mental health and criminal justice services. In 2016 and 2017, Corona Insights conducted a needs assessment for the city of Longmont. The research found that some of the greatest needs facing community residents are the ability to find affordable housing options and in turn, paying for housing. Furthermore, between 2010 and 2014, the availability of rental properties with a monthly rent below $800 decreased by 33%. The completion of the needs assessment and its subsequent report in Longmont equipped the city government with knowledge to better meet the human service needs of their residents.
Homelessness is a pervasive issue in many urban centers and rural areas across the country, with no end in sight. Local governments and non-profit organizations both have roles to play in addressing homelessness. Communities and organizations interested in addressing homelessness may benefit from commissioning a community needs assessment to uncover systemic challenges in their local area, and committing to enact changes informed by the assessment findings. Armed with information and compassion, we can begin to dismantle the barriers that lead to homelessness. The time is now.
For many years, Corona has partnered with the Colorado Municipal League to conduct the research that is the foundation of their annual State of Our Cities and Towns report. CML produced the following short video, specifically for municipal officials, about the importance of investing in quality of life:
So you’ve finally reached a point where you feel like you need more information to move forward as an organization, and, even more importantly, you’ve been able to secure some amount of funding to do so. Suddenly you find yourself elbow deep in old request-for-proposals (RFPs), both from your organization and others, trying to craft an RFP for your project. Where do you start?
We write a lot of proposals in response to RFPs at Corona, and based on what we’ve seen, here are a few suggestions for what to include in your next RFP:
Decision to be made or problem being faced. One of the most important pieces of information that is often difficult to find, if not missing from an RFP, is what decision an organization is trying to make or what problem an organization is trying to overcome. Instead, we often see RFPs asking for a specific methodology, while not describing what an organization is planning to do with the information. While specifying the methodology can sometimes be important (e.g., you want to replicate an online survey of donors, you need to perform an evaluation as part of a grant, etc.), sometimes specifying it might limit what bidders suggest in their proposals.
Part of the reason why you hire a consultant is to have them suggest the best way to gather the information that your organization needs. With that in mind, it might be most useful to describe the decision or problem that your organization is facing in layman’s terms and let bidders propose different ways to address it.
Other sources of data/contacts. Do you have data that might be relevant to the proposals? Did your organization conduct similar research in the past that you want to replicate or build upon? Do you have contact information for people who you might want to gather information from for this project? All these might be useful pieces of information to include in an RFP.
Important deadlines. If you have key deadlines that will shape this project, be sure to include them in the RFP. Timelines can impact proposals in many ways. For example, if a bidder wants to propose a survey, a timeline can determine whether to do a mail survey, which takes longer, or a phone survey, which is often more expensive but quicker.
Include a budget, even a rough one. I think questions about the budget are the number one question I see people ask about an RFP. While a budget might scare off a more expensive firm, it is more likely that including a budget in an RFP helps firms propose tasks that are financially feasible.
Requesting proposals can be a useful way to get a sense of what a project might cost, which might be useful if you are trying to figure out how much funding to secure. If so, it’s often helpful to just state in your RFP that your considering different options and would like pricing for each recommended task, along with the arguments for why it might be useful.
Stakeholders. Who has a stake in the results of the project and who will be involved in decisions about the project? Do you have a single internal person that the contractor will report to or perhaps a small team? Are there others in the organization who will be using the results of the project? Do you have external funders who have goals or reporting needs that you hope to be met by the project? Clarifying who has a stake in the project and what role they will play in the project, whether providing input on goals, or approving questionnaire design, is very helpful. It is useful for the consultant to know who will need to be involved so they can plan to make sure everyone’s needs are addressed.
Writing RFPs can be daunting, but they can also be a good opportunity for thinking about and synthesizing an important decision or problem into words. Hopefully these suggestions can help with that process!
Our partners at Heinrich Marketing came up with several great concepts, and we were delighted to conduct concept testing that helped lead to the selection of the campaign that was announced today. We conducted focus group research in urban and rural Colorado to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of five different concepts. We think the selected theme is a great way to convey a complex and challenging message.
You can see examples of the campaign theme put to use here.
I read this article in the Atlantic a few months ago which described how a surprising number of inventions and innovations in various fields are coming from people who are not experts in the field of interest. It reminded me of how some scientists have created computer games based on real world problems, and people playing these games have been able to help solve some interesting problems (e.g. Foldit). In both the examples in the article and the real world computer games, a slightly outside perspective helped companies or researchers solve an important problem.
It is easy to get into a rut when trying to solve a problem because our inclination is to immerse ourselves in the problem. Although carefully scanning a problem can help us spot errors, focusing on details does not help if the solution to your problem requires seeing the bigger picture and thinking creatively. Outsiders generally do not have the same specific level of detailed knowledge, so it’s easier for them to see the bigger picture. So here are some suggestions to help you come up out of your rut for a breath of fresh air and see your problems in a new light:
Mentally distance yourself from the problem. When we think of something as distant from us, we tend to think about it more abstractly, and research has shown that thinking abstractly can lead to being more creative. Imagining your problem as happening far in the future, in another country, or even to another person are ways of creating distance mentally between you and your problem.
Walk away from the problem. No, seriously. And for those of you who made it a resolution to get more exercise, great news: you can now kill two birds with one stone. Leung and colleagues (2012) found that actually getting out of the box (i.e. the office) led to more creative problem solving. You can make it even more impactful by walking outside, since immersion in nature also increase creativity.
Watch some funny cat videos or whatever other videos make you laugh or put you into a good mood. If your boss walks by, just point to this blog post and explain that you are problem solving. Researchers have found in general that positive mood helps us creatively solve problems.
Sleep on the problem. Although getting enough sleep is sometime difficult when there are tight deadlines, sleep can lead to insights that help us solve problems.
And of course, when you are completely stuck, find someone further removed from the problem to take a look at what you are doing. We all do this informally when we talk to friends and family about problems at work. (We often joke about how the friends and family of Corona employees are an invaluable asset to our company!) But sometimes you need to do it formally as well. Even though we are a research firm, we too have hired outsiders when we have needed to think creatively about our own company. Because sometimes you really are too close to a problem to see the forest instead of the trees.
 Forster, J., Friedman, R.S., & Liberman, N. (2004). Temporal construal effects on abstract and concrete thinking: Consequences for insight and creative cognition. Journal of Personality and social Psychology, 87, 177-189.
 Leung, A.K.Y., et al. (2012). Embodied metaphors and creative “acts”. Psychological Science, 23, 502-509.
 Atchley, R.A., Strayer, D.L., & Atchley, P. (2012). Creativity in the wild: Improving creative reasoning through immersion in natural settings. PLoS One, 7, e51474
 Isen, A.M., Daubman, K.A., & Nowicki, G.P. (1987). Positive affect facilitates creative problem solving. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6, 1122-1131.
Yesterday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock revealed Denver’s first cultural plan in 25 years. This strategic plan, written by Corona Insights in partnership with Denver Arts & Venues, will fuel the next era for our city’s art, culture and creativity. What a treat it was to attend the press conference, see the final printed plan and hear firsthand the excitement felt by city leaders and residents.
Corona leveraged its expertise in strategy, data and market research to serve the company’s hometown. The result? A community-centered plan designed to achieve a seven part vision. From finding more art around every corner, to learning over a lifetime and supporting local artists, Denverites hunger for more art.
What can you do? Go to www.imaginedenver2020.org and check out the plan. There will be an official release party on Thursday at 6pm. Come early to see a presentation of the research behind the plan by Corona Insights that starts at 4pm. Then stay tuned to see how you can get involved.
With tremendous pride and a full heart, Karla Raines presented the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs (DCCA) with IMAGINE 2020: Denver’s Cultural Plan at their January 2014 meeting. The commission had been strong proponents of a refreshed cultural plan for Denver. These volunteers served as Corona’s creative muse throughout the 15-month process. They held firm in their belief that Denver needed a research-driven plan that was strategic by design and held forth a bold vision for Denver. Their insistence that the process be community-driven resulted in a cultural plan that speaks to the aspirations and expectations of Denver residents.
Corona was happy to host the commission’s monthly meeting in their downtown Denver office (pictured below). A celebratory toast and freshly baked cookies from Maggie and Molly’s Bakery capped off the event.
Stay tuned! IMAGINE 2020 will be revealed to the public in early March. . Visit ImagineDenver2020.org for more information.
Pictured: Ginger White, Deputy Director of Denver Arts & Venues, addresses the Denver Commission on Cultural Affairs, A&V staff and Team Corona.
We were honored to work with the Colorado Municipal League (CML) for the fifth year on their annual report (PDF),State of Our Cities and Towns. Starting this year, the organization has decided to do a deep investigation into a different issue each year. They started with transportation issues this year and you can expect future reports on other important issues facing towns and cities in the coming years. To read a quick overview of transportation issues in Colorado, you can view theirannual summary report (pdf).
There are nearly 16,000 miles of city streets in Colorado … and every mile is essential to deliver groceries to the store on the corner, get children to school, connect to work, and home.
To complement the report, CML also produced an easy to digest video highlighting the key themes from this year’s survey findings. The short video is a great way to communicate the important information to a statewide audience.
To learn more about the Colorado Municipal League, visit their website.