Within the community engagement community, best practices are sometimes hard to identify.
The context of, say, a small-scale event dealing with restorative justice differs greatly from a packed city council meeting covering zoning permits. The message, audience, program design, and feedback mechanisms can be completely different, which makes standardizing a set of guidelines an oft-impossible task.
Still, there are a few gatherings that bring together enough diverse, experienced, and motivated engagement practitioners that something approaching best practices can be found across many of community engagements’ subfields, from productively navigating race relations to developing responsive digital platforms.
I was pleased to be part of the Saturday December 15th gathering of NC leaders in the civic tech field for prioritizing goals and strategies for 2019. Civic tech is about working on community needs, using volunteers with IT and web design expertise, to utilize government open data for the common good. I provide a longer description of civic tech here.
I will focus on just one idea, because it is close to my heart: for smaller towns and rural areas, what does civic tech look like, and how can it help tackle real community needs?Continue Reading
Pleased to have Maggie Woods report on the kick-off of a long-term effort on community reconnection. Maggie is a Policy and Program Manager at NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues.
North Carolinians are having increasing difficulty talking — and listening — to each other. That’s making it hard for us to get things done in our communities. And people want to find ways to fix that.
At least that’s what we heard, as my colleagues and I from NC State University’s Institute for Emerging Issues held “community conversations” across Western North Carolina this past summer.
From Buncombe to Clay to Wilkes counties — in coffee shops and at colleges — we met with 80 plus people to get their ideas about why it is so hard to connect to each other and how we can do better.
You say SKED-ule, and I say SCHEDJ-ule. Does it matter? Is “Citizen” Participation the same as “public” participation? Here’s an exploration of labels and meanings intended, but may not received as intended.
For community engagement (the title of this blog) how you categorize or label people in a particular participation process is important. Words matter because it can create an impression of inclusion or exclusion. Meanings may vary from “you are a user of a government service” to “you and your neighbors are policymakers.”
We are glad to share the reflections of Billi Jo Maynard, who worked at Public Agenda this past summer. Public Agenda is a national, non-partisan group which seeks to forge common ground and improve dialogue and collaboration among leaders and communities. They focus on critical issues, including education, health care and community engagement. The post originally appeared here.
Here is Billi Jo’s Post:
Throughout my undergraduate studies as a political science major, I have come across the subjects of community engagement and public deliberation before. However, until this meeting in Canarsie, I had never had the privilege to witness them firsthand.
Late on a Monday evening in July, roughly 30 people gathered at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church to discuss the Brooklyn neighborhood of Canarsie. Canarsie is a culturally vibrant community that for decades has welcomed many immigrants from the Caribbean. The participants at the meeting had come together to address a range of environmental and economic challenges facing their neighborhood, especially the long-term impacts of Superstorm Sandy and attempts to prepare for future disasters. Throughout my undergraduate studies as a political science major, I have come across the subjects of community engagement and public deliberation before. However, until this meeting in Canarsie, I had never had the privilege to witness them firsthand. Continue Reading
Weather disasters are ripping through communities in North Carolina and all over the world, dislocating people and devastating buildings and forests and farms. Each time, after the emergency response to dangers of injury and contamination and emotional trauma, the community is changed. Sometimes what is left is neglect and abandonment, so that unhealthy conditions become worse. Sometimes what happens is gentrification, so that dislocated residents cannot afford to come back to trendy buildings. But sometimes it can be community leadership, so that neighborhoods can rise stronger and healthier than before. This is the story of strong community and healthy housing six months after tornadoes shredded a path through east Greensboro.
This past August and September my community was tense from consecutive emergencies. There were four demonstrations on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus — and then Hurricane Florence hit, bringing flooding from more than nine inches of rain.
It is a distant memory when we did not have social media tools to relay urgent emergency information to the community. The Town of Chapel Hill marks a 10-year anniversary of @ChapelHillGov Facebook this October. An “early adopter” of local government on social media, we continue to learn new strategies to expand our reach and improve engagement. Continue Reading
The first time I saw Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, I was captivated. The fact that my high school civics teacher would show a dated, black-and-white film to a classroom of rowdy high school juniors enjoying the onset of a much more fast-paced, digital age was always going to be an ambitious choice, but I absolutely loved it. My growing fascination with politics found a fitting companion in the classic plot of an idealistic simpleton taking on a corrupt Senate. I too wanted to be Jefferson Smith, in the 23rd hour of his arduous filibuster with seemingly the entire country against him, fighting the good fight. The bad guys in that movie were emblematic of a system, and not limited to the “R” or “D” denoting one’s party affiliation.
Today, however, our information-saturated age, widespread social media usage, and the increasing ideological echo chambers most of us (myself included) largely live in, mean that series featuring crude, ends-justify-the-means anti-heroes like House of Cards are the apex of political drama. That is, of course, during the few times when those of us on different sides of the political aisle are even watching the same show. Screaming heads on MSNBC and Fox News paint incredibly different pictures of America, as do slickly-made but nuance-free clips from the Young Turks or PragerU, or unabashedly partisan hit pieces from Mother Jones and the National Review. Sadly, in spite of alarming statistics on our growing levels of political polarization by researchers from Pew and other organizations, Americans have become used to demonizing the “other”. Continue Reading
How can we gain more from group interactions? We’re happy to repost a reflection to help answer this question written by Victoria Fann and originally posted here.
Also, check out another one of her reposts where she discusses her Ben Franklin Circle here.
Here is Victoria’s Post:
As Ben Franklin discovered hundreds of years ago, something magical happens when a group of people get together to engage in meaningful conversation: that circle of individuals becomes something far greater than the sum of its parts. A powerful, dynamic energy emerges from the group collective and creates access to all the combined energy, tools, inspiration, the information, wisdom, insights and resources of that group of people.
In this context, people are able to share great levels of wisdom, become vulnerable with each other, establish a higher level of trust than they would in a social setting and have a deep level of intimacy with people they barely even know very quickly.
A short highlight about a simple – and yet complex – question for NYC voters: Do you want to establish a new engagement body, within city government, and a specific kind of outreach and participation – on a slice of the overall city government budget?
Here is the start of the ballot question:
Question # 2: Civic Engagement Commission
This proposal would amend the City Charter to:
Create a Civic Engagement Commission that would implement, no later than the City Fiscal Year beginning July 1, 2020, a Citywide participatory budgeting program established by the Mayor to promote participation by City residents in making recommendations for projects in their communities;
A report by the New York City Charter Revision Commission covers this question and two other ballot questions for this fall.
We’ll find out how New York voters decide. But for now, should this kind of decision be left to voters? Is this a good way to use ballot initiatives to both set up a new piece of the city’s engagement approach AND to specify a particular area – the city budget – for a new form of engagement?