How do you define successful citizen engagement?
A director of planning once told me that his job was to implement projects that were going to improve his city. He invested in citizen engagement because if he didn’t win the trust of the public, people could complain about the process and derail the project at the last minute.
These derailments cost him untold staff time and expense because they forced him to restart projects from scratch. To prevent that, he needs to create a fair process where people are made aware of the issues and given an opportunity to participate before the project heads to council.
We can define success in terms of cost and also benefits.
For this planner, success in citizen engagement means insurance against costly delays.
Many other people in local government also use citizen engagement to gather local knowledge from residents that government staff and other experts may not possess. This local knowledge can help improve government services by making these services better fit the needs of the community. Here, success in citizen engagement means leveraging citizens as a resource for civic improvement.
Ideally, successful citizen engagement means that you are including the public in decisions that shape their communities and are doing this in a thorough way that builds trust and incorporates local knowledge.
So, how do you know when you are successful? More importantly, how do you know you are maximizing your success? Stay tuned for our next installment, which looks at the top challenges that prevent success in citizen engagement.