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  • Success Story
  • Manchester, CT

How Manchester, CT Developed a Successful Digital Engagement Ecosystem

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History runs deep in many Northeastern towns. But despite roots back to the 1600’s, the Town of Manchester, CT, wanted to find modern ways to connect and engage with a growing population that demanded digital options. Implementing technology solutions EngagementHQ, OpenCities and OpenForms allowed Manchester communicators to update their approach and create an engagement ecosystem that lays the groundwork for future digital transformation.

“EngagementHQ was one of those tools that allowed us to expand our reach, to be able to connect with new people who hadn't connected with us before, and then allowed them to share information when and wherever they wanted to.”
Brianna Smith, Director of Communications and Civic Engagement, Town of Manchester, CT


  • 70% of services moved online
  • 30% reduction in website bounce rate
  • 50% reduction in time to find information on website
  • 100x increase in engagement response for public programs

A Town with History, But a Dated Digital Presence

Since before it became a colonial settlement in 1673, people have been making Manchester, CT, home. Like so many Northeastern states, the Town of Manchester, located in the same county as state capital Hartford, is steeped in history.

When history is in a town’s DNA, change can come slowly.

“Communications is a little bit newer to Connecticut as a whole,” said Brianna Smith, Director of Communications and Civic Engagement for the Town of Manchester. “I think there’s only two or three other communications directors in the state, but I know that it’s growing.”

In the three years since taking on her role, Smith has worked to meet the needs from leadership to improve connections with residents, including establishing an engagement arm.

Key to the success of this new approach would be shifting the way that Manchester connected with residents.

Previous communications efforts focused on print media (“We did a lot of handing out of flyers,” said Smith), so when the COVID pandemic hit, Manchester faced the same difficulties as communicators around the world, looking to connect with residents in a time when personal interaction was not possible.

“We worked closely with the local news media outlets, the journals and the newspapers in town,” she said. “We started growing the office in the peak of the pandemic. It was a big challenge, but also a silver lining opportunity for us to move more digitally.”

With a growing community of over 55,000 residents at a median age of 35, Smith knew that it was time to take a step forward. The key: Finding a way to leverage the town’s legacy website, which Smith cited as being over 20 years old, into a digital hub for communication and, more importantly, engagement.

“We have a lot of different people from different backgrounds, an array of ethnicities, races, micro communities that have a variety of accessibility needs,” she said. “That had always been in the mix, but COVID pushed that faster, the need to really connect in different ways besides just flyers and local news.”


New Technology, New Engagement

Shortly after the establishment of her office, Smith did a complete communications audit, and found that “nothing was really trackable,” she said.

“We had all these beautiful ideas of how we want to connect with people, and photos and videos we want to show off,” she continued. “But if we don’t have the infrastructure to effectively reach the right people, then all of that information is just going to get kind of muddled together.”

EngagementHQ not only helped expand the reach that Smith sought but provided tools to help identify the ways that more Manchester residents could be brought into the conversation.

Smith said the first impact came with integrating EngagementHQ into the town’s existing website.

“Our homepage on the old legacy website became this place where we would just post these flyers and banners,” she said. “It was so much information, too much detail. We needed something that was sleek, simple, mobile-first and really 21st century modern.”

Implementing OpenCities and OpenForms alongside EngagementHQ also allowed for Manchester’s digital presence to make it easier for residents to share information and complete forms through the website.

“Post website launch, we did a survey on EngagementHQ to get feedback about how people feel about the website so we can continue to update it,” Smith said.

“Originally we had a very long form that went on our legacy website that was a little bit difficult for people to find and took a very long amount of time for people to fill out,” said Smith. “But there was the additional problem that there wasn’t any kind of end-user experience once it was submitted.

“OpenForms gave us something that was very user friendly and could go right on our homepage,” she continued. “We see a lot of use out of it, people are able to navigate and get their questions answered very quickly, and, internally, it’s been helpful because staff can more easily track information on the inquiries that come in and pass along information so much faster than they did before.”

“Our civic engagement arm has grown a lot since we've also embarked on digital transformation with EngagementHQ. It's come a long way.”
Brianna Smith, Director of Communications and Civic Engagement, Town of Manchester, CT

Improved Performance Sparks New Ideas

In the time since Manchester started their digital transformation using EngagementHQ, OpenCities, and OpenForms, Smith said an impact has already been made not only in the way that the work is done but in the response from the communities.

Recent projects, including a parks master plan and a library redesign, have seen increases in engagement thanks in part, Smith said, to the new digital tools.

“These were two very major projects that we wanted to get a lot of input on,” she said. “Looking back at maybe pre-EngagementHQ, we would have thrown out of a survey, put it in all the mailboxes and printed something for people to fill out.”

While Smith says that print tactics still played a role in the outreach for the public programs, the increased reach that the digital tools provided expanded the impact to almost 100 times previous efforts.

“We reached over 2,000 residents, where we might impact 10 to 20 before,” she said.

Implementing OpenForms has also created a shift within the town’s operations, with nearly 70 offline services being brought online using the digital forms tool.

“It’s really helped us reach quite a few other demographics and micro communities that can’t come in person to get things done,” she said. “We have such a diverse community. To be able to reach people who might not have a phone or might not be able to get off work early to join a board meeting, just being able to adapt to different types of lifestyles, is so important.”

She added that the success of Manchester’s digital transformation has shifted the mindset toward finding more self-service options for residents in a variety of different departments. “We’re trying to look at what services we currently offer and how we can modify some of those to make it more accessible to people.”

By combining the three digital tools into an interconnected engagement ecosystem, the team at Manchester can better pull insights from community voices, empowering Town leadership to make more data-driven decisions.

“Having these tools in place is wonderful because it allows us to actually pilot this type of work where we’re not just doing the typical,” Smith said. “It allows us to be there when people actually need us… to have accessibility and reach with everyone in the community.”

"Our (OpenCities) website, EngagementHQ and OpenForms have this cohesive look and tone. A way of connecting that our legacy suite didn't allow for.”
Brianna Smith, Director of Communications and Civic Engagement, Town of Manchester, CT