Public Engagement Takes Leadership, Partnership, & Innovation #icma11

build-govICMA 2011 is off to an incredible start. Today we gathered with city and county government leaders from all over the world to discuss the value of public engagement. With so many ways to interact and influence each other in today’s social, mobile, and app-driven economy, this topic was very timely. It’s especially important as reports show that citizens are increasingly turning to the internet for government data, policy and services. Government leaders need to have a solid plan for using next generation technologies to engage the public.

Pete Peterson, Executive Director for the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine University of Public Policy and Ed Everett, Community Engagement Consultant and Senior Fellow for the Davenport Institute, led an insightful session about Public Engagement. We talked about what it is, why people fear it, and the benefits.

Public engagement is hard. It requires a new set of skills and a leadership mindset to overcome common fears—including government fearing a loss of control or public criticism. We discussed how important it was for today’s public leaders to embrace change and prioritize the adoption of innovative tools to help them inform, engage, and participate with the public.

Citizens reportedly spend one quarter of their time online on social networking sites. Governments cannot afford to be left behind in this revolution. They need to leverage online tools to involve citizens and start building public trust. It can ultimately lead to:

  • More credible decisions – “buy in”
  • More informed residents
  • Opportunity for community building

Here are the most important points we gathered from the discussion. In my opinion they lay the foundation for a successful public engagement strategy…

  • Leadership

    Public engagement does not happen miraculously; it has to be rooted into your decision-making models and operations. Leaders need to take it upon themselves to prioritize and create opportunities for public engagement within their organization. Luckily, most agencies already have citizen participation models built into their public policy and decision-making processes. Granicus actually specializes in bringing this process online so you can get input from the community without overstepping any of your existing state or local policies with our Citizen Participation Suite. Another benefit of this type of solution is that it’s cloud-based, meaning it’s accessible online to citizens and staff anytime they want, on-demand. The cost of these cloud-based solutions is also lower, but that’s a lengthier discussion. I’m actually hosting a briefing on “Governing in the Cloud” to announce the results of our latest whitepaper next week, register here.

  • Partnership

    Building a partnership with the public is a great starting point. It cultivates trust. As some 40% of adult internet users go online for data about government activities and spending, you need to reach these individuals within your community. I know what you’re thinking – how can this be productive? It can, if you do it the right way. In fact, we recently created a best practice report on this very subject. It discusses how to make citizen participation work productively online. You can download it here.

    This report gives an indepth overview of how government agencies are successfully using cloud-based technologies to capture, manage, and track citizen feedback in a timely and productive way, without adding more work for your staff. It’s also discusses the importance of having these tools be designed specifically for government. This can reduce risk, complexity, and even costs.

  •  Innovation

    The possibilities for using next generation technologies to engage the public are endless. You need first make it priority and you need to encourage your department heads to be innovative in their approaches. Have them learn from the best practices of agencies already it successfully and have them assess whether there are flaws in their current citizen engagement methods. Take the City of Sacramento, for example, they found a cost-effective way to capture and track citizen feedback related to public policy online. Their Mayor, former NBA player, Kevin Johnson inspired this change. By using Twitter, he made himself visible, accessible, and responsive to citizen’s comments. They quickly realized they needed to make this process more sustainable. No Mayor has time to manage hundreds of inquiries from citizens. They decided to use the city’s website to successfully collect citizen feedback in an organized, efficient way. Read more about their success story here.

    Oftentimes, we hear concerns about policy: How do we regulate social media? How do we start engaging with citizens online? Don’t let these concerns get in the way of innovation. Many agencies are overcoming this with simple shifts to their current policies and programs. Check out this post for more ideas.

All, in all, we left this session feeling inspired. Working collaboratively with the public to identify and implement community programs and priorities is a win-win—it leads to more credible decisions and a stronger sense of community. This can all start by government leaders simply making it a priority and empowering their departments to implement tools that work best for them.

Have questions? Feel free to request more information or leave me a comment!

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