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The City of Portland, Oregon

Community & Civic Life

Promote the common good

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City/County Info: 503-823-4000

TDD: 503-823-6868

1221 SW 4th Ave, Suite 110, Portland, OR 97204

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Perspectives from Focus Groups

ONI renaming progress: Perspectives from focus groups

Thank you to everyone who responded to our survey request for naming suggestions. We also held two focus groups in January to hear perspectives on what ONI means to people today and how they’d like to see it evolve in the future.

We began each focus group by asking participants to think about all the different ways they might answer the questions: Why does ONI exist? What value does ONI bring to the community?

Here are a few common themes that emerged, along with a sampling of comments that came out of the focus group activities:

1. Civic engagement: Strengthening participatory democracy in Portland, and creating a connection between the public and city government.

 Focus group comments:

Helps the public understand
Keeps the public informed
Facilitates public participation
Connects communities with government
Accessible and available at many entry points for the public
Enables citizen/community input to the city
Opens the doors to councils and bureaus
Builds trust in government
Facilitates public consultation, involvement, and collaboration
Helps public access/navigate city efforts
Helps residents get involved in land use, transport, safety matters, and city policies
Supports the development of democratic district representation
Reduces barriers to public access
Provides a mechanism to aid other agencies’ consultation efforts

 2. Equity and inclusion: Bringing more people to the table, reaching out to and increasing access for under-engaged communities.

 Focus group comments:

Makes space for more voices
Stands for racial justice
Stands united against hate
Engages people of color and who have ideas to make communities better
Advances equity in public civic engagement
Expands the reach of programs at the neighborhood level to a greater diversity of residents
People-based advocacy
DCLs and coalitions
At its best—looking to reach people outside of the system
Experimental engagement

 3. Supporting role: Tools, training, capacity building, and funding to equip residents to advocate and take action for themselves.

Focus group comments:

Builds/believes in people power
Improves collective decision making
Empowers community resilience
Funds engagements of MAS, DCL, community groups
Equitable service to communities on capacity-building in city efforts
Trains folks to advocate for communities
Supports grassroots leadership development
Helps grassroots entrepreneurs and associations solve problems with tools, admin, help, dollars
Training and skill development opportunities
Technical assistance
Tools to engage and collaborate

4. Connection to place: Strengthening the connection between Portland residents and the places they share.

Focus group comments:

ONI provides tools to make communities safer, friendlier, active, connected
Supports community connections
Promotes the solidarity economy
Builds community
Builds social cohesion
Builds civic investment
Helps citizens take action
Provides a geographic touchpoint since elections are not geographically representative
Fosters belonging
Aids newcomers

5. An inflection point between past and future: ONI’s history of serving neighborhood associations is critical to some, and limiting to others.

Focus group comments:

ONI should support and empower neighborhood associations, per the original intent
ONI should not dictate to neighborhood associations
Offer concrete solutions for neighborhood associations seeking answers or support
Connect neighborhoods with resources to encourage autonomy and collaboration
ONI should foster public involvement through neighborhoods
Not everyone can participate in neighborhood associations
People come together in different ways—not just based on geography
Expand the reach of programs at the neighborhood level to a greater diversity of residents                   


The focus groups also demonstrated important challenges and considerations for the renaming process.

1. Passions run high

Portlanders who have a relationship with ONI feel a strong personal stake in how the office evolves.

2. Clarity of mission and scope of responsibilities is critical

Focus group participants noted that ONI has a broad portfolio of programs and is being pulled in many directions, which can make its central mission unclear.

3. Inclusion without alienation

People who work with ONI through neighborhood associations and people who organize in different ways all want to see themselves in the office’s future. Reaching more Portlanders shouldn’t mean excluding others.

4. Words matter

Participants discussed the importance of specific word choices and what they could mean for the office’s mission and relationship to the public. Language should be clear and lend itself to translation.