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Fairfax Uses YouTube As Community Engagement Tool

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

Lights. Camera. Action.

The school board, presiding over the 181,000-student school system in Fairfax County, Va., is asking its community members to get ready for their close ups. The board started allowing individuals to submit video testimonies in place of in-person ones last September as a way to make community engagement easier—and it claims to be the first and only elected body in the country to do so.

As they would for in-person testimonies, individuals must first submit an online request to give testimony pertaining to something on issue at the meeting. At the time of the request, they must provide a web link to their video.

Videos can be submitted from three days prior to the meeting until 7 a.m. on the last business day before the meeting is to take place. They can be up to three minutes long and are screened in the school board office before they're shown to make sure that they don't contain any profanity or other inappropriate content.

Over the school year, though, the response was minimal, with the board receiving very few video submissions. School Board Member Ryan McElveen attributes this to the community's lack of awareness of this option.

"We know there's a demand," said McElveen. "Our county is about 500 square miles with major traffic problems. We expect more people would want this option. So it's a communication issue right now."

Aside from facilitating public engagement, the YouTube option also gives community members a chance to flex their creative muscles.

"[Fairfax County] is a fairly creative, affluent community. As a result, we've received some very nicely edited videos," said McElveen.

One video, addressing the district's plan to move groups of students from one school to another, edited together student testimonies on why they wanted to stay at their original schools.

"It was very powerful, much more so than if the parents had just come to testify," said McElveen.

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