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
Tenants have courageously started to reverse the downward spiral of the Avalon Trace Apartments, with the support of Greensboro organizations. In December, they told their stories cautiously, anonymously, to university students in the compelling video (view video here). “If you could hear our voices, would we matter?”, describing the deteriorating physical conditions and negligent landlord response. But well-founded fear of retaliation and of being displaced from their homes had silenced most complaints.
Earlier this year, the City of Charlotte’s Communications & Marketing (CC&M) department developed a creative social media campaign to engage the city’s digital following and better understand the topics that are important to Charlotte residents.
As the spotlight on community engagement continues to increase, there is often a simple factor that can be easily overlooked…asking the community what they want to know and how they want to be engaged.
Charlotte is proudly known as the Queen City so it was fitting that the campaign be called The Queen’s 2017 with #TakeTheReign serving as the call-to-action. The CC&M team recognized that 2017 was an important year for the Queen City and that the community needed to have a hand in telling her story.
With an active presence of over 140,000 Twitter followers and nearly 9,800 followers on Facebook, the city knew it had an audience that could be tapped into in a different way. While the main goal was to encourage these followers to stay connected to local government and their communities, the feedback received would also help shape how the city’s story is shared.
Six board members, two staff members, and a dozen empty chairs were all that greeted public safety director Stephanie O’Malley when she walked into a sleek but soulless conference room in downtown Denver. For a safety department under fire for violent conditions at its main jail and allegedly flouting public records laws, and a civilian oversight agency relatively fresh from being enshrined in the city charter, this was an underwhelming sight.
Yet even in a city regarded as a national leader in holding the police and sheriff’s departments accountable, both the pace of reform and the depth of community engagement are far from consistent.
Glad to introduce Rachel Kelly, Public Information Officer for the City of Burlington
It can take years for a new resident to feel like they are part of a community. The City of Burlington wanted to welcome new residents and make sure that they could immediately feel connected to their new community. To help new residents connect with their new community and ultimately become informed and engaged citizens, the City created Belong In Burlington, a new resident program that launched in January 2017.
I am glad to describe our initiative and hope to inspire other city governments and civic partners for outreach to their new residents. We have wonderful photos and videos of our gatherings.
White Supremacy. Confederate Heritage. Preserve or remove statues and memorials?
Many communities are facing passionate people and arguments about these monuments and their meaning. Some Confederate memorials have already been removed in recent days (Franklin, Ohio; Baltimore), including one in Durham toppled illegally. Other vandalism of memorials or statues have occurred in Arizona and at Duke University.
What should be done – and HOW should it be done? Continue Reading
An important movement is growing, in Durham (NC) and across the country, to support and elect candidates from traditionally underrepresented populations to office and to better engage voters from those same populations. While this work was happening before the 2016 election, it is gaining momentum.
There are a variety of organizations working to equip black people, young people, immigrants, women, working class people, LGBTQ people, and others to run for local, state, and national office. Durham For All, a local political organization, is working to politically engage working-class people of color in order to make Durham’s local government more progressive and accountable to the needs of its working-class residents. One highly publicized example of the success of organizations like the ones linked above iis the election of Chokwe Antar Lumumba as the mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.
We may feel comfortable in a nice park, or a city plaza, but does this really affect our “community engagement?”
The Center for Active Design (CfAD) offers a study that says “yes.”
CfAD states that their Assembly Civic Engagement Survey is the first study to examine specific community design features that influence civic life, using large-sample survey methods and visual experiments.
Their innovative study of 5,000 people nationwide inquired about respondents’ civic perceptions and behaviors, as well as design elements and maintenance conditions within their communities. Here is what they found. Continue Reading