5 Lessons About Citizen Engagement

On Tuesday April 8th, GovLoop hosted our third annual Government Innovators Virtual Summit. This year we focused on “Innovations that Matter” and how to make innovation stick at your agency. Read this recap of our session on citizen engagement and for more blog coverage of the Summit can be found here.

View the recording below:

One Colorado organization is looking to make data and development more user-friendly and open to the public in the Rocky Mountains — and learning a lot about citizen engagement along the way.

This Tuesday, at the GovLoop Government Innovators Virtual Summit, Brian Gryth’s of Colorado’s Go Code Initiative presented to the GovLoop community about his organization. They’re an apps challenge designed to make public data more accessible in the state of Colorado. Teams of developers and entrepreneurs across the state are competing to solve business problems and grow the local economy by building apps that will help Colorado companies thrive.

The idea, said Gryth, actually came from a young couple who started an organic granola company a few years ago.

The couple had started their granola company out of their condo. Their product soon got so popular it was sold in 80 stores. A few years later their popularity skyrocketed again, and they expanded to 1800 stores across Colorado.

“Instantaneously we had a scaling issue,” said Gryth. “This couple can’t produce enough in their office. They need to find office space, commercial grade space, and find folks to scale the business, because they don’t have degrees in commercial food production. So where do they turn for help?”

So the idea for Go Code Colorado was born. Gryth and his team went to the Colorado business community to discuss the top challenges they faced, and ways Go Code could help — and decided an apps challenge was the way to go.

“This is a challenge for entrepreneurs and software developers that puts public data to good use in B2B apps,” explained Gryth.

The best three apps that come out of the statewide challenge will win actual contracts with the state of Colorado. “We’ll be their first customer,” said Gryth.

“We want to expand hands-on economic development and get developers involved, and help bridge divides between sectors,” he added. “And we want to do data by the people, for the people.”

As Go Code has conducted the challenge and the hackathons to determine the winning apps, Gryth said he and his team have learned five important lessons about citizen engagement along the way.

1. One size does not fit all
The approach you may want to use in one community for outreach and process may not work in another community,” said Gryth. What worked for Go Code in Durango, Colorado for outreach and promotion did not work in Grand Junction — where Go Code actually had to cancel event due to the lack of interest they ended up having. “There’s a scale issue we learned we had to deal with,” said Gryth.

2. It’s not about the data. It’s about the problem
“Having a distinct problem you’re trying to solve in front of you is really helpful,” said Gryth. Knowing exactly the problem you need to solve is just as important as every other aspect.

3. …But it’s also about the data
If you’re doing a developer challenge, said Gryth, you do have to make sure to have the best available data available and out there for use by those participating. Don’t skimp on that aspect.

4. Use feedback, but at the same time, don’t listen to the unhelpful.
“You’re going to receive a LOT of feedback,” said Gryth. “Remember – you’re doing new things so you’re going to have some pushback and negative feedback. If you’re doing something new, you’re just going to hear people say ‘this is crazy, it will never work.’ But you have to stay true to your vision. Listen to feedback that can make you better but don’t get caught up in the naysayers.”

5. Seek help!
“You can’t do everything yourself,” said Gryth. “So don’t try! Cultivate relationships and find the people who can make contacts for you.”

Make sure to check out more coverage of the Virtual Summit here, and tell us in the comments: What are your tips for citizen engagement?

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Katharine Greenlee

Hi Catherine,

Those truly are some great ideas about citizen engagement. Reading through your post reminded me of some powerful citizen engagement-related resources that can be found on the Knowledge Network. I think you will find that Satish Nambisan and Priya Nambisan’s report, “Engaging Citizens in Co-Creation in Public Service,” and Robert Vogel, Mike Huggins, and Evelina Moulder’s report, “The Extent of Public Participation” also offer useful lessons on citizen engagement practices and potential returns on investment. I hope that you find these reports helpful.

Very best,


Community Engagement Manager, ICMA

[email protected]