Increasing public participation may be one of the most complex challenges that local governments face. However, the rewards can be immense!
Increased public participation can help create better residents who are informed about the local government decision making process and that know how to engage with local government officials. Increased participation also creates better outcomes, with information coming from residents and increased buy-in local governments can make more informed decisions and have a better understanding of the impacts decisions will have in the community. Due to the improved outcomes local government departments across the board should endeavor to include some form of public participation in their workings and decision making process.
While increasing public participation is great it is also important to keep a goal in mind every time you engage with the public. Identifying which goal you are working towards can help you tailor how you engage with the public to create the most effective and efficient outcome.
The 10 main goals of increased public participation are: (according to A Manager’s Guide to Evaluating Citizen Participation)
- Inform the public: let citizens know about issues, changes, resources, and policies
- Explore an issue: help citizens learn about a topic or problem
- Transform a conﬂict: help resolve disagreements and improve relations among groups
- Obtain feedback: understand citizen views of an issue, problem, or policy
- Generate ideas: help create new suggestions and alternatives
- Collect data: gather information about citizens’ perceptions, concerns, needs, values,
- Identify problems: get information about current and potential issues
- Build capacity: improve the community’s ability to address issues
- Develop collaboration: bring groups and people together to address an issue
- Make decisions: make judgments about problems, alternatives, and solutions
What your local government does might be different depending on if the goal is to inform the public or to collect data. If your local government is interested in collecting information you might use an online pole, collect comments on Facebook or Twitter, or hold a town hall meeting so residents can voice their opinions and ideas. While is you are trying to inform the public you could create a social media campaign, add the information to the website, and send local government representatives to various community activities.
Increasing public participation can help to improve the community, however, without a clear goal in mind you may have difficulty getting the results from the community that you want.
If your local government has increased public participation recently or has a great public engagement strategy please take a minute and post it on the Knowledge Network! The more ideas we share the better we can govern and the more innovative we can be.
Check out these additional resources to get more ideas for increasing public participation and the importance of public participation to your community.
ICMA Knowledge Network Intern