“We’re in a time when government and citizens need to engage each other in new ways to produce solutions to the issues we face,” said one participant, Cheryl Graeve.
Traditional forms of public engagement need an overhaul. We’ve seen how the deficits of town hall meetings and poor modes of online public discussion have been politicized, and it seems to be happening more often. It’s calling national attention to urgent challenges in governance, but it’s also made the risks of clumsy engagement infrastructure—the erosion of trust and respect—even more apparent.
People have shown their potential to work together with leaders and policymakers in many productive ways that result in smarter policies, stronger networks and an increase in public trust. There are tried and tested ways to engage residents, especially at a local level, that make democracy more inclusive, scalable and sustainable.
Last week, in Silver Spring, Maryland, Matt Leighninger and I lead a group of civil servants, nonprofit leaders, and students of public policy in a workshop to strengthen their engagement approaches. At this day-long event, we reviewed case studies, demonstrated deliberative group discussions and explored approaches including online techniques that enable participants to begin creating an engagement strategy.
“We’re in a time when government and citizens need to engage each other in new ways to produce solutions to the issues we face,” said one participant, Cheryl Graeve, formerly of the League for Women Voters.
The workshop focused on creating a civic infrastructure in the participants’ communities that would allow them to embed engagement in their work. Instead of a one-off event, the goal is to go beyond satisfying perceived requirements for two-way communication with the public and develop sustainable, good government practices.
For Cheryl Graeve, this was particularly important. “This workshop encouraged us to think beyond engagement that merely ‘checks the box’ and as a result, I am committed to building relationships as part of each public meeting I participate in,” she said.
On March 8th, we’ll be co-hosting another workshop with the Institute for Local Government (ILG) in Sacramento, CA. Matt and I are excited to lead this group of Californians (and others) with ILG’s expert trainer Sarah Rubin, who brings over 17 years of experience. That’s 30 years of engagement experience in one room!