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  • San Juan County

Engagement Island: How San Juan County Brought Citizens Together


With a small population spread across a handful of islands off Washington’s northwest coast, the Public Works Department of San Juan County needed a way to engage a geographically dispersed population to enact meaningful programs that benefit everyone—not just a vocal minority.

“The engagement site allowed us to focus on a single set of topics and get the wide swath of responses we wanted to make an informed decision. We gathered real input to understand our residents better and be transparent in the department's decisions.”
Erin Wygant, San Juan County Communications Coordinator


  • Increased engagement for highly dispersed population of 18,000
  • 1,000+ residents responded to public works survey
  • 2,300 visits to the 32-Hour Work Week project
  • Increased Spanish engagement on surveys
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How Do You Connect Citizens a Literal Sea Apart?

Made up of more than 170 islands, the residents of San Juan County often identify more with their home island than the county at large. While the 18,000 citizens live primarily on four islands, they remain separated by the Salish Sea, with a ferry system as the only public transportation between locales.

In 2022, the County campaigned to increase its Road Levy, proposing a $0.64 increase per $1,000 assessed property value for transportation projects. The levy failed to garner public support, leading to the need for a different approach to discover what residents wanted.


“We heard from residents on social media, but also understood that only represented a small part of the population,” said Erin Wygant, the county’s communications coordinator. “We wanted something where everyone interested could participate.”


Directly Reach Out to Citizens Via a Dedicated Online Portal 

San Juan County Public Works created a project page with Granicus EngagementHQ to connect with citizens.

EngagementHQ is a public participation platform that manages everything from consultation to collaboration. It helps increase overall participation and saves time and resources by engaging communities in the right way to gain actionable insights and reduce the risk of dissatisfaction.

The department posted a survey, “How should San Juan County prioritize Public Works projects?” that was live for over a month.

It comprised five parts: demographic information, general Public Works awareness, marine facilities, shoulders, and county roads. Each section asked questions about facility use, general condition, desire for improvements, and Road Fund usage.

The survey was advertised on social media, press releases, posters and fliers in local hot spots, and through partnerships with local ports, school boards, services organizations, and more.There was no excuse for someone to say they didn’t know about it.

“The engagement site allowed us to focus on a single set of topics and get the wide swath of responses we wanted to make an informed decision,” Wygant said. “We gathered real input to understand our residents better and be transparent in the department’s decisions.”


Sea Change: Survey Leads to Action

More than 1,000 residents filled out the survey, a tremendous number for a population of just 18,000. The survey results also met the benchmark for statistical significance, meaning the data was not the result of random chance.

With that data in hand, Public Works identified four key areas for improvement:

  • Motorists, bikers, and pedestrians were all concerned about narrow shoulders, limited visibility, and the lack of multi-modal accessibility.
  • Existing shoulders, in particular, were considered not safe or suitable for respondents’ desired uses.
  • Citizens wanted investment in trails, non-motorized transportation corridors, and infrastructure over culvert replacement and general maintenance.
  • Respondents support the maintenance of marine facilities regardless of personal use.

The results showed how EngagementHQ was a valuable tool in connecting with citizens. Since that first project, San Juan County has launched other initiatives, including adopting a 32-hour work week and a countywide community health assessment.

San Juan County is a recipient of the 2023 Granicus Digital Government Community Engagement Award for it’s “How should San Juan County prioritize Public Works projects?” effort.