From going to the gym to starting a new hobby, the new year brings no shortage of resolutions and goals. In 2018, commit to revitalizing public trust and building stronger communities with these citizen engagement resolutions.
1. Move towards co-creation and collaboration.
In many local contexts, there is significant distrust around “outsiders” coming in without understanding how proposed policies or decisions will impact the community. The growing recognition of citizen experts means that decision-makers are increasingly including community members in the decision-making process (i.e. involve, collaborate, empower on the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation). Residents are experts on the communities in which they live, and are often best able to provide insight and implement solutions for issues that affect them directly.
In 2018, start involving the public early on and provide multiple opportunities for ongoing engagement. When decision-makers involve community members in co-creating solutions to wicked community problems, such as public safety, traffic, green space and more, they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the final decision. While there is no guarantee that the outcome will be everyone’s top preference, people will recognize that a legitimate process was undertaken to consider and integrate diverse perspectives, and are less likely to oppose it.
2. Rebuild trust with authenticated public input processes.
In 2017, the public’s trust in institutions such as government, business, and media hit an all-time low. People are cynical – and they’ve got a right to be. Recently, the FCC repealed net neutrality regulations while refusing to disregard hundreds of thousands of fraudulent comments. Understandably, people don’t think that their feedback matters – that the public input process is for show and the outcome has already been decided.
However, we know that there are many, many governments and organizations who do genuinely care about incorporating public feedback into the decision- and policy-making processes. We work with them. Digital identity authentication – the process of ensuring that people are who they say they are online – is the first step to rebuilding trust in the process. By weeding out bots, trolls, and spammers, decision-makers can have confidence in the feedback that is being collected, and citizens can be confident that participants are other engaged members of the community, like themselves.
3. Demonstrate accountability and “close the loop”.
Another essential component of building trust is accountability. Once people have taken the time to participate and provide input, they want to know that decision-makers are listening and taking their feedback into consideration. That’s why PlaceSpeak built the “Why We Are Consulting” and “Who’s Listening” features into each consultation topic page to encourage greater transparency and accountability. By explaining what will be done with the feedback provided, people are more motivated to get involved because they can be confident that their input will have an impact. Otherwise, there is little incentive for them to participate.
This year, commit to “closing the loop” – reporting back to participants at the end of the public input process about how their input influenced the final decision (e.g. What We Heard reports, summary poll or survey results, infographics, etc.) For participants, knowing that their feedback has made a difference is critical to making engagement meaningful. When people are able to see the tangible effects that their input has had on a project or issue, they are more likely to stay engaged and participate in the future.
What changes are you going to make in 2018 to engage better with community members and stakeholders? Share your thoughts in the comments below.