Direct Initiatives allow for citizens to propose legislation in the State of California. This also means local governments are willing and able to engage citizens, special interest groups rand seek to resolve conflicts and build consensus.
I had a rare opportunity to visit seven different cities in the San Francisco Bay Area such as Daly City, Foster City, Cupertino, Redwood City, City of Saratoga and City of Burlingame in addition to my host city, the City of Half Moon Bay.
Each city was equally interested in wanting to engage its community. This took the shape of various community projects such as Citizen’s Academy in English and Spanish which allowed city officials to explain and local government services and processes and citizen’s rights to the use of tech- tools such as NextDoor or enhancing transparency.
At each city, I witnessed how city officials dealt with disagreement with dignity and here are my key takeaways
1. Listen with Interest
2. Remain Impartial
3. Consider the dissenting viewpoint
4. Do not over react, I.e. don’t turn citizens away or be swept away by a vocal group
5. Identify what is the source of discontent i.e. residents may reject development in their community but their underlying concern might be over congestion of the roads which can be resolved through expansion of the road and build consensus to towards development
6. Inform and Educate – technology tools allow for a lot of data to be shared but without context, most of this information is not useful. Hence, cities hold open study sessions where their city manager, attorney and council members go through and synthesise the data.
7. Facilitate Understanding – this means being willing to hold multiple open study sessions, responding promptly to queries and providing resources to enable understanding
8. Engage citizens on multiple platforms – because only a small but interested group might make it down to council meetings to give feedback.
9. Have tonnes of patience and perseverance, and I mean a TONNES.