The criminal legal system in Whatcom County was in dire need of an overhaul of 1) its overcrowded and outdated incarceration and rehabilitation facilities and 2) its services to be more focused on prevention, behavioral health, and re-entry support. But two previous attempts at passing a ballot measure to fund reforms failed, and a 2018 listening tour meant to gain public input saw participation mostly from older white people, leaving out significant demographic groups impacted by incarceration. As conditions at the jail continued to worsen during the pandemic, and with no solution in sight, the County decided to go back to the drawing board. They formed a committee to develop a Justice Project Needs Assessment, and they brought in The Vida Agency to help them connect with communities they had yet to hear from to weigh in on the assessment.
The Vida Agency (TVA) developed a county-wide digital survey in both English and Spanish, focused at a more diverse audience. We also facilitated listening sessions, interviews, and feedback events for Whatcom County tribal members, immigrant communities, previously incarcerated people, and family members of those currently and formerly incarcerated.
To recruit survey participants, we designed a flyer and infosheet and tapped into both TVA’s and the County’s deep relationships with community-based organizations (CBOs). We also launched print, social, and digital ad campaigns and press releases to be placed online and with mainstream and hyperlocal media outlets. With ease of access in mind, ads drove users to a landing page at whatcomjusticeproject.org, which we built in both English and Spanish. The page outlined the project needs, proposed reforms, and timeline in plain language, steering clear of jargon and legalese.
Traditional engagement tactics tend to bypass the communities the County wanted to reach. Instead, TVA tailored interactions to each unique community, developing questions and facilitating personal interviews, listening sessions, and informal gatherings that honored cultural differences. Our outreach also prioritized trust-building and privacy to encourage participation and foster thoughtful, candid feedback.
The survey collected 2,341 responses. Digital display ads yielded 340,026 impressions with 2,210 clicks and an average click-through-rate (CTR) of 0.62%, which far exceeds the 0.17% benchmark that is considered “strong” for small, hyperlocal outlets. Display and social media advertisements yielded 1,303,331 impressions with 1,996 total clicks and an average CTR of 0.38%. Given that Whatcom County’s population is under 250,000, this CTR means that considerable numbers of people were served impressions multiple times—a clear indication that ads were well optimized for platform and audience.