Nantucket Citizens’ Academy

Sponsor: Nantucket Town Manager’s Office (TMO)
Sponsor Liaison:

Elizabeth Gibson (Nantucket Town Manager)

Gregg Tivnan (Nantucket Assistant Town Manager for Strategic Projects)

Student Team: Gabriel Buonomano, Lauren Flanagan, Garrett Sheehan, Hannah Shell
Abstract: Citizens’ academies have been utilized by many towns in the U.S. to foster citizen awareness of and engagement in local government affairs. Sponsored by the Nantucket Town Manager’s Office, the goal of our project was to create a citizens’ academy model curriculum that informs citizens of Town government structure and operations, municipal services and funding, and the challenges faced by Nantucket. To achieve this goal, we identified best practices of existing academies and gauged Nantucket municipal officials’ and citizens’ civic knowledge and academy preferences through a public survey and several interviews on-island. We then produced a detailed model of one academy session with corresponding recommendations regarding academy content, delivery, organization, and evaluation of success.

Final Report: tmo_final_1210

Final Presentation: tmo_finalpres_1207

DPW Citizens’ Academy Session Sample Presentation: DPW Citizens’ Academy Session Sample Presentation

DPW Info Pamphlet: DPW Info Pamphlet

DPW Academy Template: Academy Template for DPW

English/Spanish Survey Poster: ENG_SPAN_survey_poster

English Survey Questions: ENGLISH_survey_questions

Spanish Survey Questions: SPANISH_survey_questions

Survey Questions, Results, and Analysis: IQP Citizens’ Academy Survey Qs, Results, Analysis

Post-Session Questionnaire: Post Session Evaluation Questionnaire – DPW Model

Post-Academy Questionnaire: Post Academy Evaluation Questionnaire

Executive Summary

Like the majority of towns in Massachusetts, Nantucket encourages citizens to vote on town policies and bylaws through an open town meeting form of government. As a result, citizen knowledge of and involvement in government affairs is critical. However, only 11% of registered voters attended the 2021 Annual Town meeting (ACK-2, 2021) and 17.8% of registered voters cast their vote in the 2021 Annual Town elections (ACK-1, 2021). Furthermore, it has also been difficult to attract citizens willing to serve on at least one of more than 50 committees that enable town government to function smoothly and efficiently.

Goals and Objectives

To improve civic engagement, the Town Manager’s Office proposed creating a citizens’ academy to provide the public an opportunity to learn about and effectively engage with town government. The goal of this project was to address that proposal by creating a model academy curriculum that informs citizens of town government organization, how services on the island are funded and delivered, and what challenges Nantucket faces. This goal was achieved through the following four objectives:


  1. Identify the best practices found in literature and in previous academies for developing and maintaining a citizens’ academy.
  2. Gauge current civic engagement levels in Nantucket, the citizens’ knowledge of their government’s organization and responsibilities, and the public’s interest and preferences regarding a citizens’ academy.
  3. Solicit opinions from Nantucket town officials on content, structure, and delivery of a citizens’ academy.
  4. Develop, produce, and refine a detailed model of one academy session along with corresponding recommendations regarding academy content, delivery, organization and evaluation of success..


Based on the results of our research, we created a template for academy session curricula, a detailed model curriculum of the Nantucket Department of Public Works (DPW), a survey to gauge citizens interests and preferences for an academy, and two questionnaires that can be used to measure academy success for future iterations. It is expected that the model curriculum will be used by the Nantucket municipal government to create and offer a citizens’ academy that encompasses all Nantucket town government departments and services.


Methodology and Findings

We conducted 16 interviews with current citizens’ academy facilitators, Nantucket government officials, and other public figures knowledgeable about citizens’ academies and/or civic engagement. We also created and distributed a public survey, offered in English and Spanish, regarding knowledge of town government and preferences for academy content, which yielded 103 responses.

The interviews provided the team with information regarding content, organization, marketing, and feedback strategies for the academy. Specific topics that were covered and from which information was obtained during these interviews included the following:


  1. Academy facilitators: class dynamics, facilitators, public outreach, and feedback methods
  2. Town government officials: effective display of content, translation of academy materials, and public outreach
  3. Prominent public figures: delivery of course content, facilitators, translation, public outreach, and feedback


Data from these interviews indicated that an effective advertisement campaign must use multiple avenues of communication. In addition, class size should be carefully considered – smaller classes facilitate more discussion-based learning and connections between group members, while larger classes are more akin to a traditional lecture-style classroom and can reach a larger audience. Key characteristics of academy presenters include a thorough understanding of their overall department, sufficient experience in their work, and the ability to present information in an effective and engaging manner. While it was generally agreed that it was ideal to hold an academy in person, many interviewees also indicated that online components should be considered to accommodate a broader audience. Also emphasized was the importance of efficient feedback methods to improve future iterations of the academy.

Our survey data indicated that there is a demand among the Nantucket public for a citizens’ academy. A majority of respondents expressed that they believed citizens need to be more engaged in and knowledgeable about town government. They also believed a citizens’ academy could be an effective method of increasing citizen knowledge and engagement; however, it should be noted that only about half of the respondents indicated wanting to become more engaged in municipal government or to attend an academy themselves.

After collecting and assessing our data, we developed the following project deliverables:


  1. An academy session template completed by the Nantucket DPW, Sewer Department, Finance Department, and Town Administration.
  2. A detailed model session for the DPW, including a slideshow, an informational pamphlet, a case study, and a photo tour.
  3. Two qualitative feedback questionnaires: one post-session questionnaire and one post-academy questionnaire.


Conclusions and Recommendations

Based on our research and interview/survey results, we identified numerous components necessary for successful organization and implementation of a citizens’ academy. We recommend the following to the Town Manager’s Office:

Academy Recommendations

  1. The Town of Nantucket should develop a budget to cover the following: academy facilitators; compensation for presenters; childcare for participants with young children; food and venue costs; transportation to the academy and for any academy tours; advertisement; translation of material; and other academy session materials. Development of this budget is vital to many of the following recommendations for successful implementation of the academy.
    1. At least one facilitator should be hired to run the academy by organizing and managing sessions. Responsibilities of this role include communicating with all departments involved in the academy, designing and managing the academy curriculum and materials based on information provided by those departments, and determining the schedule for the academy.
    2. Select suitable representatives to deliver each department’s presentation. Department representatives should have a thorough understanding of their overall department, sufficient experience in their work, and the ability to present information in an effective and engaging manner.
  2. The academy session content should be composed of the following:
    1. PowerPoint presentations and brief case studies for each department should be created using information gathered from the academy templates.
    2. Pamphlets containing detailed supplemental information for participants to take home should be included in the academy sessions, allowing the academy session presenters to focus on a more general overview of their departments. Supplemental information may contain a review of presentation slides or more details regarding specific topics.
    3. Interactive activities for each department, such as a tour of facilities or a budget process walkthrough.


  1. The academy should have the following structure and schedule:
    1. An academy schedule that starts with an overview session of town government, continues with several sessions of specific departments or groups of related departments, and concludes with a graduation ceremony session should be followed.
    2. Follow a schedule based on the results of our survey: 5 weekly sessions in January, February, or March, each for 2 hours in the evening on Monday or Tuesday.
    3. Both in-person and online components should be considered for academy content delivery in order to accommodate a broader audience.
  2. A means for measuring qualitative and quantitative success of the academy should be developed. Evaluating the success of the academy is critical to academy improvement for the future and should be measured qualitatively and quantitatively through three types of questionnaires given to participants.
    1. Qualitative: Determine a reliable and effective method of soliciting qualitative participant feedback to improve further iterations of academy sessions and the academy as a whole, such as the two questionnaires we have created.
    2. Quantitative: Develop two identical quantitative surveys (pre- and post-academy) that evaluate the participants’ knowledge of town government. These two tests can be compared to measure improvements in participant knowledge, and therefore, the success of the academy.


Other Recommendations

Additionally, we have found other recommendations that the Town of Nantucket may find useful for improving general civic engagement, which consist of the following:

  1. Developing future versions of the Nantucket Citizens’ Academy to target different audiences. These audiences may include (but are not limited to) seasonal residents, businesses, and students.
  2. Producing short videos (about 5 to 10 minutes) that are accessible online and provide citizens the opportunity to learn about Town government at their own pace.
  3. Offering a community service opportunity to high school students to become more engaged in local government by contributing to the creation of certain academy content, such as creating video tours for academy sessions.
  4. Hiring a town operator to direct citizens’ calls to the correct departments.