Abraham Lincoln remarked at Gettysburg in November 1863 that ” . . . the great task remaining before us (is). . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish . . .”
TRRG has taken up “government by the people” as a mission, in looking for sufficient avenues for public engagement in local government decision making and process operation that effectively allow for a balanced expression of all peoples’ values. TRRG believes that a variety of barriers impede a balanced consideration of some stakeholders’ points of view and concerns. TRRG seeks to understand these barriers and to promote changes that overcome them.
Community Planning: Brief summaries of methods for helping people get involved in planning. With links to further information, on this and other websites.
City of New Orleans Neighborhood Participation Plan
“This document provides a clear path towards more meaningful participation between the local community and government. Everyone who participates in local government decision making, regardless if as an advocate or as a public administrator, can use the City of New Orleans Neighborhood Participation Plan as a guide that will help improve how they come together to find solutions tomorrow.” Source
More: New Orleans Neighborhood Engagement Office
“The Mayor’s Neighborhood Engagement Office is the City’s permanent mechanism for public participation in government decision-making. We create opportunities for dialogue, information sharing, partnership, and action between City government and neighborhood residents and leaders.”
Public Meetings and the Democratic Process – Brian Adams
” . . . public meetings serve an important democratic function by providing citizens with the opportunity to convey information to officials, influence public opinion, attract media attention, set future agendas, delay decisions, and communicate with other citizens. Meetings are a tool that citizens can use to achieve political objectives.
This tool is ill-suited for fostering policy deliberations or persuading officials to change a vote on a specific issue. But meetings serve another purpose: By giving citizens a venue in which they can achieve political goals, public meetings can enhance the political power of citizens and, consequently, improve governmental responsiveness to citizens.
Public meetings can complement the structures that foster citizen deliberation (such as citizen panels, forums, and roundtables) by providing citizens with the opportunity to engage in the political process before deliberations commence and after citizens have developed a set of recommendations or a consensus policy position. Even though public meetings themselves are not deliberative, they can facilitate citizen participation and the development of good policy by assisting citizens in achieving their political goals.”
Read more here . . .
Topic from TRRG’s founding discussions: “Flawed (City) processes, procedures and policies were at the root of everyone’s problems. Unless these basic systemic weaknesses could be addressed, the possibilities that residents would continue moving from crisis to crisis were all too real.”
” . . . whether decision makers are willing to listen”
Perhaps the most important factor to be considered is whether decision makers are willing to listen and take into account the result of citizen engagements processes in decision making.
” . . . create dialogue around key questions and issues . . .”
“. . . citizen dialogue must be meaningful . . . people must know that they are being listened to, and get feedback on how their views have been taken into account.” To ensure that this is the case, before embarking on a citizen engagement initiative, there must be commitment and “honest intent” by both politicians and public officials within the locality to use the information and preferences expressed by the community.
Citizen engagement is also “not an alternative to representative government.” Empowerment of citizens is not the top rung in a contest of control, but rather one of the optional ways that citizens can be involved that will be appropriate to some situations but not to others. Citizen engagement occurs along with, and not in place of, the work of the city council.
If active citizen engagement occurs, the locality does not have to be divided into camps of officials and citizens. The views of officials will be affected through dialogue with citizens and vice versa when there is ongoing interaction rather than isolated instances of citizen review and advice.
Source: The Connected Community: Local Governments as Partners in Citizen Engagement and Community Building – a White Paper edited by James H. Svara and Janet Denhardt, 2010 (Suggestion: Bring up this pdf file and search for the word ‘dialogue’ – this will provide some interesting reading.)
ICMA Civic Engagement
In 2014, the International City/County Management Association’s Center for Management Strategies focused on civic engagement as one of its priority areas. Here is the Management Strategies Center’s Civic Engagement page.
The following information was compiled through the Enhanced Research Partnership of ICMA, the Alliance for Innovation, and Arizona State University and represent best practices in the practice of civic engagement/public participation. These documents are designed to assist local governments in creating strong, multi-faceted programs for engagement. Documents
National League of Cities – Democratic Governance & Civic Engagement
“A growing disconnect between citizens and government – complicated by the challenges of financial strains, demographic changes, diminishing social capital, and increasing demands from citizens – has renewed the need for local leaders to revisit issues of democracy and governance.” More
City Manager Position Paper
TRRG met June 21, 2014 to discuss what characteristics should be sought in a new city manager for Tucson. A document was created, available here, summarizing TRRG’s input to Tucson Mayor & Council as they seek the right person.
Plan Tucson, the updated general plan that was prepared with extensive community input and was adopted by Tucson voters in November 2013, offers significant guidance on how Tucson’s government should operate (Plan Tucson, Chapter 3, Governance and Participation, 3.42).
Here are some highlights:
City government derives its legitimacy from the citizens it serves. To effectively determine citizen needs and acceptable ways to meet those needs, City government must interact with residents, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and other governmental agencies, broadly referred to here as the public . . .
In recent years, City departments have undertaken more highly interactive processes. These processes begin early in the policy, program, or project planning and invite participants to help create alternatives in contrast to the traditional request for feedback on a predetermined alternative. These more hands-on processes can result in increased “ownership” of an outcome, more trust in the public process in general, and less likelihood of eleventh-hour dissension.
To help ensure success, such efforts require:
- upfront planning,
- sufficient resources and time,
- careful identification of potentially affected populations,
- a clear understanding by the City and public of each other’s roles,
- and a commitment to honoring the process or having open dialogue about proposed changes to the process.
G1 Provide the public with regular communication and sufficient information regarding policy, program, and project planning and decision-making via multiple methods.
G2 Offer opportunities for productive public engagement in City policy, program, and project initiatives from the beginning of and throughout the planning and decision-making process.
G3 Emphasize interactive participation methods that solicit input from the public and provide feedback to the public on input received and how it was used. (3.46)
Measuring progress toward fulfilling Plan Tucson goals and policies is a critical component of successful implementation. (4.7)
TRRG plans to monitor the City’s adoption of these policies and to seek examples of the “early, interactive, hands on, trust building” processes referred to in Plan Tucson.
Authentic – real or genuine; not copied or false; reliable; trustworthy
Collaboration – the act of working with another or others on a joint project; the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing
Consensus – the judgment arrived at by most of those concerned
A consensus decision making process attempts to help everyone get what they need.
- Participants contribute to a shared proposal and shape it into a decision that meets the concerns of all group members as much as possible.
- Participants in an effective consensus process should strive to reach the best possible decision for the group and all of its members, rather than competing for personal preferences.
- All members of a consensus decision-making body should be afforded, as much as possible, equal input into the process. All members have the opportunity to present, and amend proposals.
- As many stakeholders as possible should be involved in the consensus decision-making process.
- The consensus process should actively solicit the input and participation of all decision-makers.
Consensus decision-making attempts to address the problems of both Robert’s Rules of Order and top-down models. Proponents claim that outcomes of the consensus process include:
- Better Decisions: Through including the input of all stakeholders the resulting proposals may better address all potential concerns.
- Better Implementation: A process that includes and respects all parties, and generates as much agreement as possible sets the stage for greater cooperation in implementing the resulting decisions.
- Better Group Relationships: A cooperative, collaborative group atmosphere can foster greater group cohesion and interpersonal connection.
Source with extensive information: Wikipedia, et. al.
While consensus decision-making may at first glance appear to be an impractical way to get things done, it has been proven effective in even large groups.
A common question asked is: “What if a decision absolutely has to be made, but no consensus can be reached?” The simple answer is: if there is no consensus about a solution, then is there really an urgency to the situation?
If there truly is urgency, then people will simply have to work harder to achieve a consensus. They might even have to degrade to a compromise, though it is hoped . . . that instead they can find a synthesis which brings opposing views together to a consensus.
Source: Metagovernment – Consensus
Dialogue – an exchange of ideas or opinions on a particular issue, especially a political or religious issue, with a view to reaching an amicable agreement or settlement.
. . . a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution
. . . the power of discourse to increase understanding of multiple perspectives and create myriad possibilities
. . . a rigorous bottom-up democratic form of dialogue must be structured to ensure that a sufficient variety of stakeholders represents the problem system of concern, and that their voices and contributions are equally balanced
. . . dialogue is used in classrooms, community centers, corporations, federal agencies, and other settings to enable people, usually in small groups, to share their perspectives and experiences about difficult issues. It is used to help people resolve long-standing conflicts and to build deeper understanding of contentious issues.
Responsive – reacting quickly and positively; responding readily and with interest or enthusiasm; readily reacting to suggestions, influences, appeals, or efforts
Stakeholder – a person or organization that has interests that may be positively or negatively affected by the performance or completion of the project. “Once you understand the stake the stakeholder is seeking to protect, profit from or enhance, you can structure your communications to let the person know you understand their hopes or concerns. From this starting point, you’re in a much better position to manage the relationship to the benefit of both the project and the stakeholder.” Source
Though focused on the federal government, some useful insights for local government are contained in: Why Government Fails So Often – And How It Can Do Better – Peter Schuck – 2014
Here is a sample of Schuck’s observations:
. . . the administrative agency occupies a peculiar position in our government, being not directly accountable to the citizenry, claiming the authority of expertise that the public does not readily grant, and often exercising vast, difficult-to-control discretionary powers to shape policies in ways that can affect the vital interests of all citizens.
More excerpts are here.
The Demise of the Public Hearing
An article on recent developments in citizen engagement in public processes was published in the October 2013 issue of Governing magazine:
“Citizen engagement is coming of age. Local governments are experimenting as never before, pushed by the excruciating decisions that come with tight budgets, the ubiquity of social media and the development of new online deliberation tools. Behind it is a recognition that the time-worn public hearing may not be the best and is certainly not the only way to interact with the public.
. . . there is a wide spectrum of public participation. The International Association for Public Participation, known as IAP2, says that spectrum runs from
- a bare minimum of informing the public about problems and alternative solutions,
- to collaborating with them and
- empowering citizens to make the final decisions.
Countless city officials still think that giving residents three minutes at the microphone makes for citizen engagement.
. . . local governments across the country now seem to be at a tipping point. “We’re in a period of great ferment,” says James Svara, a political scientist at Arizona State University who studies public engagement efforts. “Governments are trying all these things, and eventually it will become a standard practice and we’ll see a new consensus about what it all means.”
Source: Governing – The Demise of the Public Hearing – October 2013
TRRG may benefit from using the tools and approaches of investigative or collaborative journalism.