Ten Thoughts on Civic Engagement for Governments

As I sit at the ICMA conference, in the audience for a civic engagement session for the ICMA Center for Management Strategies, where the Center for Public and Nonprofit Management is now a service provider, I reflect on ten tips for governments in their civic engagement efforts. 

1. If you are going to open up for citizens to participate, do it right, well, and with adequate funding.

2. If you are not culturally, structurally, or financially prepared to do civic engagement right and well, do not do it. 

3. Do it right: Be purposeful and strategic. Know what options are available in terms of tools and design of process, and link those options to a clearly stated objective.

4. Do it well: Maintain proper staffing with individuals who can monitor and propel the engagement process. 

5. Fund it: Develop a core message about the intrinsic and extrinsic value of civic engagement for budget and policymakers. 

6. While at it, manage expectations: Clearly communicate the purpose of the engagement to citizens, and follow up with citizens so they know what was promised was delivered.

7. Know that you might not know. This is particularly important with emergent technologies. Your citizens may have more creative ideas than you do for how to use new technologies to engage citizens. Listen to them.

8. In your (or your citizens’) creativity, be strategic. It can be very easy to be creative without strategy, which violates the rules of doing it well and doing it right. 

9. Don’t give up. If a process doesn’t lead to citizens turning out at first, don’t give up. Be persistent. In many communities, we are talking about culture change for government and citizens. Also, don’t start and then stop, especially if citizens start coming in.

10. Make it easy for citizens to participate but not too easy. You want citizens to work, to learn, and to engage, and citizens want the same from you.

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