We asked leaders of California’s civic and community-based organizations about their views on the state of public participation in local governance. The following report explores what these civic leaders say is working, what’s not, and how public engagement can be improved. Traditional models for including the public in local decision making, these leaders say, fail to meet the needs of both residents and local officials. Most see significant value and potential in more inclusive and deliberative forms of engagement, and many agree local officials are making increasing efforts to include residents more meaningfully. Overall, this research suggests civic and community-based organizations are looking for newer and more effective ways to engage the public and may be ready for stronger collaborations with local government.

The report also includes more concrete recommendations for local officials and their institutions, civic leaders and their organizations, and foundations and other funders. The recommendations can help improve public engagement in local governance throughout California and, we hope, beyond.

Public Agenda conducted this research in partnership with the Institute of Local Government and The Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University. The work was commissioned by The James Irvine Foundation.

Data for this research was collected through a state-wide, representative survey of 462 leaders of civic and community-based organizations that as part of their mission seek to improve local decision making by working with residents and/or local officials on issues that affect their communities (“civic leaders”). The survey was conducted between July 10 and August 22, 2012. Additional data was collected through focus groups and individual interviews with civic leaders across the state.