Project Why

Project Why works to build trust by empowering residents, stakeholders, and City staff to identify challenges and create solutions that meet peoples’ needs.

Project Why is a team of City staff and nonprofit partners that are dedicated to identifying everyday experiences that shape your perception of the City (no matter how big or small). Our team partners with residents, departments, and external stakeholders to identify underlying issues, and co-create sustainable solutions that build trust between residents and local government.  

Through activities, interviews, and prototypes, the Project Why team develops a deep understanding of the problem from the perspective of everyone involved – City staff, residents, businesses, contractors, kids. Our framework connects residents’ lived experiences to how the City of New Orleans provides services. Project Why partners with residents to gather and incorporate ongoing feedback, create tools and solutions, and measure trust. With Project Why, the City of New Orleans offers better, more resident-centered services. We are working to empower the community by providing helpful information and quality services that meet peoples’ needs.


Moments That Matter  

Project Why use Moments that Matter as a starting point for our work. Our initiative defines Moments that Matter as opportunities identified by New Orleanians in which the City of New Orleans can improve how it serves residents. Moments that Matter are the key moments in a resident's day. These moments can range from common experiences that can either reinforce a narrative that the City is incompetent or times when the City pleasantly surprises you with prompt, helpful and transparent services.

Moments that Matters (MTM) are instances where the City of New Orleans can either build trust with residents or break trust. These moments are places where the city can improve on how to engage with residents.

Examples of MTMs previously shared by residents include positive and negative experiences, such as having your water suddenly shut off without notice, observing fire hydrants flushing gallons of water into city streets, or city employees responding quickly to remove a fallen tree branch you reported, then letting you know the problem has been solved.

Submit Your Moment That Matters 

Project Why wants to hear about your Moments that Matter. Please submit your Moment through this survey.

Some Moments that matter you can share with Project Why include:  

  • A good or bad customer service experience in City Hall. 
  • City services do not fix issues specific to your community's needs. 
  • Staff experiences as a City of New Orleans employee. 
  • Any instance residents and city staff feel we need to be aware of. 

Please include a description of your location, what you were doing, what you saw, or experienced.

  • Explain why it mattered to you – was it surprising? Frustrating? Inconvenient? Did it make you trust the City more or less?
  • If it was a positive moment, what were you expecting to happen?
  • If it was a negative moment, what should have happened instead?
Would you like to stay involved? (required)

Photo is courtesy of Chris Granger/ The Times-Picayune |

Signals of Trust

In our research process, we determined that “trustworthiness” has various essential ingredients including Empathy, Helpfulness, Capability, Reliability, Transparency, Fairness, Inclusivity and Accountability. We refer to these elements as Signals of Trust. We use the Signals of Trust as metrics for our rubric that determine how reliable the City seems to residents.

Project Why focuses on building trust between residents and the City of New Orleans. To build trust, we need to figure out how to measure it! Because Trust is a vague notion with varying components fundamental to the concept, we broke down the key elements of trustworthiness.

“What makes one worthy of trust?” To answer this question, the team reviewed academic literature to better understand the elements, or ingredients that make someone (or a government) trustworthy.

  • Capability
  • Reliability
  • Transparency
  • Accountability
  • Empathy
  • Inclusivity

These elements of Trust are our Signals of Trust and are the foundation for Project Why.  All Signals are equally important for building and maintaining trust.

Project Why uses the Signals of Trust to measure the aspects of trust we need to improve upon as a City government. Using a tool, we developed called the Trust-O-Meter, where community members rate the City on our “ingredients” of Trust (Learn more about the Trust-O-Meter here). These measures guide how we approach the solution. Based on the Trust-O-Meter results, the lowest-rated signals show a clear indicator of what aspects of trust we need to improve upon.

These Signals of Trust provide a roadmap for how we must improve.

For example, if residents rate the City with a high Capability score, but a low Transparency score, this might indicate that our ability to do the work is not the problem, so our team would focus on explaining the behind-the-scenes part of City processes to help build trust. If we focus on a Signal of Trust that does not reflect how the residents feel, we miss an opportunity to build trust.

By addressing concerns (increasing transparency) instead of reiterating what we already do well (emphasizing accomplishments), we are being responsive and demonstrating our trustworthiness.


Project Why activities are hands-on, accessible, and engaging for all ages, abilities, backgrounds and education levels. They can be quick, simple, and fun or they can be more like interviews or focus groups that take a deeper dive with a smaller group of individuals or stakeholders. One activity we created is the Trust-o-meter, a thermometer-like tool designed to measure aspects of trust (Signals of Trust). With the Trust-O-Meter we ask individuals to rate how much they trust the City of New Orleans. 

Learn More

How To Get Involved

Project Why LOVES getting input and feedback from the community through a variety of activities designed to make sure your voices, input, and feedback are heard and meaningfully incorporated in City service delivery.

If you have an upcoming event and would like Project Why to table, please send us an email at We can work with you to identify a topic or activity that is right for you and your community.

About Project Why

The Project Why initiative began when Mayor LaToya Cantrell asked for innovative approaches to stormwater management and flooding in New Orleans. From its aging and outdated infrastructure to being on the frontlines of climate change, the City of New Orleans, as a result, has seen its highest rain totals since 1870. The path to creating a city that could withstand increased flooding events during the climate crises led to the City’s initial solution – a property tax ballot measure for infrastructure maintenance. The new tax dollars were to be split between the City’s Department of Public Works, primarily responsible for building and maintaining water management features like retention ponds, and the Sewerage and Water Board, the City’s public water utility. However, residents resoundingly rejected the new property tax. 

Although the new legislation was not supported, the failed ballot initiative did inform the administration that City Hall needed to engage with residents more effectively to create long-lasting solutions specific to New Orleans issues. As a result, we began interviewing residents as stakeholders to determine why the City was unable to pass this ballot tax. Our interview methods prioritized genuinely meeting people where they were. Teams went to homes and businesses and to waiting rooms at both City Hall’s permitting office and SWB. City employees even intercepted people in parks and along the street. Ultimately, residents gave us a clear and consistent message: “The City is corrupt and incompetent. Giving you more money won’t help.”

Getting support from residents was the first step to finding a solution to the City’s water problems. Our team then shifted gears to prioritize rebuilding trust with residents by improving how the City of New Orleans communicates and receives feedback from residents. To solve this problem, we understood the need to redesign how we engage with residents to put their reality first and provide information about ongoing projects directly to people when, where, and how they want it. Through this phase, we worked with dozens of residents to design a suite of signage and digital updates so anyone that wants to know about a project can easily find more information, sign up for alerts, or report a problem. With this model in hand, we continue to work with multiple departments and agencies to build a system that can bring this information together so it can be easily accessed and updated. 

While Project Why started with communication about infrastructure projects, the underlying issues around trust, communication, engagement, and service delivery hold true across dozens of City services, agencies, departments, and functions. Our engagement with residents as stakeholders helped the initial idea of Project Why to grow substantially since its inception to what it is today. 

Project Why’s ultimate goal is to bring information that residents want and need to know about City services, projects, and information directly to people when, where, and how they want that information. To ensure we were meeting these goals, we worked with residents to design and iterate on the tools, mission, and services of Project Why.

Project Why aims to find the “Moments that Matter” – the everyday interactions with the City that ultimately builds or erodes trust. “Moments that Matter” can be anything from a frustrating or confusing process, or difficulty finding an answer for a specific question, to positive everyday interactions like a helpful and informative call to 311, or City staff going out of their way to answer a question or help resolve an issue. Once we recognize these “Moments that Matter,” we work to better understand why they mattered, then use those insights to improve City systems and make sure residents walk away satisfied.

With the core concept of Project Why firmly established, our team collaborates with other City departments to examine and find solutions for “Moments that Matter” they identified within their services. While our core team is small, we have proven effectiveness working across departments and helping better align department resources towards the needs of the public. Our plans for 2022 include:

  • Increasing transparency and communication about boil water advisories with SWB
  • Improving 311 service and response
  • Developing tools for departments to better engage with residents on important issues in ways that contribute meaningfully to how the City provides services and information
  • Measuring resident trust through surveys, polls, and internal metrics

We are excited to move forward with the Project Why initiative to create a more transparent, accountable, equitable, and competent New Orleans for both residents and City staff.