This is a repost on how to have more permanent forums and tools to support strong public engagement.
A hat-tip to Matt Leighninger for his thinking and permission drawn from Part 5 of his series, How Public Engagement Needs to Evolve.
Matt, a friend and colleague, identifies some of the problems as:
In many instances, engagement happens as a temporary, stand-alone activity;
Professionals in these different areas (for example, school policy, police-community relations, and community development) rarely work together when they are trying to engage the public;
Every-department-for-itself engagement usually results in lower turnout. Faced with a choice about which of many meetings to attend, busy citizens will usually choose the one that is most relevant to their interests (or none at all).
In response, Matt proposes to build some “universal pieces” of local engagement infrastructure, such as:
How can housing, health, and employment build a healthy economy?
What happens when housing declines?
How can we engage our community in re-building a healthy economy?
I’m glad to show the positive connections between safe and affordable housing and benefits to the community and individuals of a stronger local economy and healthier people. As the graphic above shows, what we sometimes think of as separate things – jobs and economic activity, or asthma and health care – actually link back to housing.
Here’s what I see in Greensboro – I’m eager to hear how other communities are working on similar kinds of engagement of residents, citizens, health care people, and university resources. Continue Reading
My last post argued that we should think of the role of local government in communities more in terms of “barn raising” than the more transactional metaphor of a vending machine. This idea was put forth in the great book Community and the Politics of Place by former Missoula, Montana mayor Daniel Kemmis, and later picked up in a popular article written by Frank Benest, former city manager of Palo Alto, California. The crux of the notion is the need for communities to move away from an “us” and “them” relationship between citizens and community organizations on the one hand, and local government on the other, and rather think of local government as a key community institution that is both part of and an extension of the community.
The one that formerly graced the corner of Carroll and Chapel Hill Streets, adorned with the Pauli Murray poster and so delightfully dedicated to its employees? The one where neither service, sustainability, nor unexpired foods were specialties? (You know, the one that now houses The Cookery?) Yes, I love that one!
The new co-op, three blocks further west into the West End, gleaming, modern, and so sustainably run that middle class member loyalty comes, but does not go – much like the rising average median incomes surrounding it? Yes, I love that one!
The one in East Durham, that’s only open once a month, focuses on low-income membership, Continue Reading
In early October, I helped to celebrate the progress of service dogs being trained by inmates at the Franklin Correctional Center (FCC) near Bunn, NC. The 18 men are trainers in At Both Ends of the Leash (ABEL), part of the work of Eyes, Ears, Nose and Paws (EENP), a Carrboro, NC nonprofit that matches service dogs with people with special needs or disabilities.
EENP pups-in-training live at FCC for about 18 months, from the time they are five-months old until they are ready to be partnered with a client. Two EENP clients were part of the October event, but will actually receive their dogs on Nov. 4th as part of formal “graduation” held at the Carrboro Century Center.
I had many powerful reactions to the demonstration of skill, and talking with the ABEL trainers.
Anyone who serves on a citizens board, volunteers at a house of worship, or does anything to help other people has experienced frustration. They have a problem that needs to be solved, but they just can’t seem to find a solution. People can quickly become frustrated if their partnership isn’t productive. If you’ve been stuck in a late-night meeting spinning your wheels, you know what it’s like.
A concept that began in healthcare circles decades ago may be helpful for tackling problems in other settings. The term is positive deviance, and it’s relatively simple – where some have failed at a project or task, others will find a way to succeed, even with similar circumstances and resources. These people or groups may be referred to as positive deviants. The challenge is in finding such behaviors and reproducing them for other applications.
I recently was asked to speak to a joint meeting of town councils of four communities in Eastern North Carolina. The subject they asked me to speak about was community engagement. What I ended up spending most of my time talking about were two frames for thinking about the role of local government in the overall process of community building. The two frames are local government as vending machine and local government as barn raising. In 1996, Frank Benest, former city manager of Palo Alto, California, wrote an article in ICMA’s Public Management (PM) magazine asking whether local government was serving customers or engaging citizens. He used the metaphor of the vending machine (which he attributed to another city manager, Rick Cole) to describe the common way local government’s are thought of.
This semester I have relocated to Washington DC in order to lead the first semester of our new Wake Washington program. My 16 students are all placed in internships across the city in national and city government, think tanks, non-profits, and consulting firms. They are also taking a course on policymaking and another one on constitutional law. Five weeks into the semester, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on the value of internships both for students and for the organizations that sponsor them, with particular attention to the kind of civic learning students gain from the experience.
Often, the emphasis on internships and in internship programs is more focused on Continue Reading
Rebuilding trust in American democracy was a central theme among public communicators who gathered at the City-County Communicators and Marketing Association (3CMA) www.3cma.org conference Sept. 6-8 in Anaheim, Calif.
#3CMAAnnual: “How can local government earn trust in the era of fake news?”
Explaining the “why” as part of a sustained story is a better strategy than regular blurt-outs to engage with the public, said Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole in the opening conference session. Invest in the time to develop key messages. Think about the way people feel about their government. He urged local government communicators to Continue Reading