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How NOACA Leveraged Digital Tools to Create Greater Community Connections


When closures of common engagement points looked to present a critical challenge to receiving public input on their legally mandated plans, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) shifted to a digitally driven strategy. Granicus’ govAccess provided the tools to help create a website and digital experience that expanded participation and engagement.

“Our website provides us with powerful platforms to connect with the communities we serve, monitor and analyze the results of that engagement effort, and then improve upon future engagement campaigns.”
Danielle Render, Director of Public Affairs, Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency


  • 5,802 website visits
  • 96 meetings of NOACA committees, subcommittees, and advisory councils
  • 20 podcasts and webinars with significant increase in downloads
  • 136,168 interactions
Must have Granicus Solutions

A Critical Plan Impacted by Pandemic

Serving the greater Cleveland area, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency conducts transportation and environmental planning for a five-county region that is home to 2.1 million people in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, and Medina counties.

Once every five years, NOACA is legally mandated to produce an update to its 20-year long-range plan that covers issues impacting modes of transportation and air and water quality, all targeted to improve the quality of life for area residents.

“What we plan today will impact our region for years to come,” said Danielle Render, NOACA’s director of public affairs. “So, it is critically important to gather input from the community.”

NOACA’s 20-year plan deals with issues as wide-ranging as the area of Ohio the organization serves, with automobile, highway, bridge, roadway, transit, bicycle, walking, and freight transportation impacted.

“We have to project the effects on the region in the years and decades to come from the decisions we make,” said Render.

There’s never a good time for a pandemic, but the impact of COVID-19 came at a particularly challenging time for NOACA’s five-year review cycle. Targeting their most recent long-range plan, eNEO2050: An Equitable Future for Northeast Ohio, NOACA undertook its farthest-reaching public engagement campaign ever.

The impact of the lockdowns, however, created a need to re-evaluate the way NOACA engaged with the public.

“In the past, we would get public comment for the long-range plan by holding public meetings in person, typically at libraries, as well as open houses,” said Render. “To publicize the meetings, we would distribute flyers and/or postcards throughout our five-counties for residents to pick up, and email messages and newsletters to people on our mailing lists.”

These meetings would often see smaller turnout than the organization would like, Render said, with typically “no more than a dozen comments.” The closure of libraries and other venues suggested that engagement would be even more negatively impacted. However, the challenge presented an opportunity to reach the public digitally.

“Our website has to provide us with powerful platforms to connect with the communities we serve, monitor and analyze the results of that engagement effort, and then improve upon future engagement campaigns,” Render said.


A Digital Hub for Interaction and Engagement

NOACA relied on Granicus’ govAccess solution to create a digital experience that provided not only the basis for connection and interaction that in-person meetings provided, but also expanded the capabilities to broaden reach to a larger audience to access and review critical information of the eNEO2050 plan.

Using multi-channel marketing and SEO approaches to reach audiences, NOACA’s website became a critical hub to connect digital video through social media, mobile marketing, and podcasts, to name a few strategies within the organization’s communications plan. Creating a cohesive messaging campaign across all platforms would require optimizing content that amplified key information while creating a highly inclusive, creative, and accessible online environment.

Creating the website was an important piece of the vision, Render said, providing an access point for new information and allowing the public to ask questions and submit comments.

“We took a comprehensive digital architect approach so that we could better strategize and adopt a robust digital platform backed by analytics to target messages to specific audiences,” said Render.

Important to that process, she said, was bringing a variety of stakeholders into the planning stages early and encouraging them to provide strong involvement that led to a greater sense of ownership across all areas of the organization.

“It helps NOACA to understand the needs, expectations, and interests of the people who are affected by or can influence the planning process,” she said. “Like many organizations, we use broad engagement strategies to increase participation and commitment to strategic planning. So, it’s important to inform and involve partners, stakeholders, and the public to ensure accountable policies, projects, and programs under our purview.”

The website launch was accompanied by media releases, blast emails to stakeholders and interested parties, and social media (a five-month calendar of messages) all intended to drive traffic to the digital hub. Visitors to the website were encouraged to identify their priorities for Northeast Ohio, choose policies that would support their priorities, and allocate “coins” representing a set amount of money to indicate how they believed scarce resources should be allocated.

Using govAccess, NOACA was able to use real-time analysis and metrics to help better target their audiences, analyzing input and communicating trends to participants, stakeholders, and leadership.

“No two metropolitan planning organizations are alike,” said Render. “Each organization’s region has its own unique attributes. But by being able to identify the parameters of your audience, meet them where they are, collectively gather and analyze input, and then document the process and identify improvements, we were able to find success.”
Danielle Render, Director of Public Affairs, Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency

Building a New Pathway for Future Communications

Despite the shift from in-person to digital engagement, the success of the eNEO2050 digital outreach campaign has changed the way NOACA will connect with the communities they serve moving forward.

“It certainly enhances and improves our ability to reach more people and is now a model and best practice,” said Render.

She added that the combination of traditional and digital approaches working in tandem to optimize the user experience greatly increased participation and the likelihood of taking action.

“We were able to create meaningful connections with audiences and stakeholders for a lasting bond that, over time, has poised NOACA to build brand awareness and meet engagement demands,” Render added. “Using digital communication and marketing channels across all aspects of our organization’s operations, from our planning and technical work to internal operations, has created positive change.”

From the website alone, more than 5,800 visits were driven to eNEO2050 information and content, including 20 different online podcasts and webinars that saw significant downloads and attendance. Engagement saw more than 130,000 interactions take place with the 96 online meetings of NOACA committees, subcommittees, and advisory councils.

The eNEO2050 planning process received commendations from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration for innovative public engagement approaches and recommended efforts as best practices for other metropolitan planning organizations. The effort also garnered NOACA recognition as the best MPO in the country by the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organization in 2021, and by Granicus in 2023 with a Community Engagement award as part of the company’s annual Digital Government Awards.

While the recognitions are appreciated, Render said the real reward has been the insights that digital communications, sparked by their refocused website and digital experience, have provided and the opportunities for further growth in the future.

“We certainly learned and proved that we could virtually reach our intended audiences as well as the broader region in a way that we may not have thought possible were it not for the challenges of COVID,” she said.