Photo Credit: Engaging Local Government Leaders/ City of Roanoke, Virginia
In case you missed it, Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) has started a momentous day for local governments around the world with the launch of #CityHallSelfie Day. This initiative is a great social media tactic to engage with the citizens in your community and have them get to know your local government.
It is important to understand that when civic engagement is done well, like #CityHallSelfie Day, you will also begin to build community among participants and the benefits include:
- Achieving greater buy-in to decisions with fewer backlashes such as lawsuits, special elections, or a council recall.
- Engendering trust between citizens and government, which improves public behavior at council meetings.
- Attaining successful outcomes on toxic issues, which helps elected officials avoid choosing between equally unappealing solutions.
- Developing better and more creative ideas and solutions.
- Implementing ideas, programs, and policies faster and more easily.
- Creating involved citizens instead of demanding customers.
- Building community within a city.
- Making your job easier and more satisfying.
From How Civic Engagement Transforms Community Relationships, here are several examples of civic engagement processes that have been successful in various communities.
Brea, California — Engagement of employees
The city of Brea is an excellent example of a city that understood that it needed to engage its employees with as much emphasis used to engage its citizens. They developed a very sophisticated engagement process where working groups of employees developed and presented the budget, which eliminated thirty-five positions, to the city council. This process of engagement led to successful negotiations with the unions to freeze salaries, benefits, and step increases. The city used the same employee engagement process to rework the organizational structure after cutting the budget and service levels. Working groups of employees developed and presented to the city council a new organization structure that eliminated four departments, created three new departments, eliminated assistant city manager positions, and reduced nine departments down to six departments. This reorganization was accomplished with buy-in from employees and the city council.
Evanston, Illinois — Budget issue and the use of YouTube
Evanston (population of 75,000) is an upper-middle-class city that had faced a $9.5 million deficit that required a 12 percent budget reduction last year. The new city manager had the staff engage the citizens well in advance of making any recommendations or drafting a proposed budget. The city hired a professional facilitator who helped design a thoughtful five-step civic engagement process. This public process culminated in a list of the top ten recommended budget cuts. The city put the civic engagement meetings on YouTube and had more than 1,000 comments about the top ten list that the council reviewed. The city also engaged its employees to develop a list of possible cuts.
Salt Lake City, Utah — Land use, locating a government facility, historical districts
Salt Lake City (population 186,000) has a strong mayor from a government that uses sophisticated civic engagement processes. Mayor Ralph Becker has been the champion of these efforts and understands and practices civic engagement in ways most elected officials do not. He has adopted civic engagement as the process the city uses to accomplish tough or controversial projects. The city has effectively used online tools for civic engagement, such as Peak Democracy (www.peakdemocracy.com), for resolving more than ten issues the city had faced.
Salt Lake City used the Oregon Solutions (www.orsolutions.org) civic engagement model to successfully resolve a long-term issue of a rundown park in the downtown area. The city had recently adopted UserVoice (www.uservoice.com) as part of its civic engagement lexicon. UserVoice was used as an online open house to help prioritize different issues, and Peak Democracy was used as an online public hearing to have a dialogue about those prioritized issues.
The city will use a private web company for the program, “Salt Lake City Listening.” The software will scan the Internet for any blogs, comments, discussions groups, or dialogues about Salt Lake City and summarize them into thematic categories that are provided to staff who can begin to anticipate issues or concerns of their citizens.