Getting your government message out to people can be a challenge. And, sometimes words are inadequate to convey the message. When that is the case, a show and tell model may be the answer.
Manchester, Connecticut, a vibrant community of 57,000 residents, has a successful program that uses a show and tell model. The program, called Government Academy, was established in 2002. It is held once a year in the fall. It is a lively 10-week interactive program, held in a casual format and designed for residents, and those who work in town, who want to learn about the inner workings of local government.
Residents or people who work in town who want to participate complete an application prior to the start of the program. Class size is limited to 25 participants and a waiting list is created. If a participant needs to drop out of the program, someone from the waiting list is invited to join. And, past participants are welcome to make up any classes they miss.
That flexibility has been an important feature of the program. The schedule is set in advance and classes are held one evening per week at different town facilities each week. Participants meet the town staff members who work at those facilities and take tours. Staff members also give presentations about their work, give some demonstrations, and answer questions.
A department head who oversees the program acts as a kind of concierge by meeting the participants at each session, reminding them about the next session and session location and answering any general questions they may have. Participants receive a binder filled with reference materials from each department they visit. The program ends on the tenth session with an informal graduation ceremony.
Adult Learning Styles
The combination of demonstrations, presentations, tours and hands-on experiences for the participants contributes to the success of the program. According to research conducted by behavioral scientists like Dr. Malcom Knowles, adults learn differently than children. So, instruction needs to be tailored to appeal to different learning styles. Those learning styles are:
- Visual – learning by observation
- Auditory – learning by listening, hearing and speaking
- Kinesthetic – learning by experiencing, moving and doing
Because the Government Academy program has features that appeal to all three adult learning styles, it is an effective tool to communicate and connect with participants.
We’ve seen numerous benefits to having a program like this:
- Participants meet town staff and learn who to contact within the town government when they have a concern or complaint
- Participants learn about town programs and services
- The program is a platform for town staff to showcase their work
- Participants learn how tax money is reinvested in the community
- Participants learn some practical skills like how to use a fire extinguisher properly or the best way to recycle household items
- They learn about volunteer opportunities in town, some with tax credit benefits
- The program is a primer for people who are considering running for local public office or those newly appointed to a local board or commission
- Participants make connections with each other which promotes community
- The program has converted some critics to allies and reinforced allies positive feelings about town government
- Participants become more involved in local affairs
Local government has the biggest impact on the daily lives of people. And it requires significant investment and a lot of work to maintain a safe and vibrant community. But, few residents know what it takes to get there. The government show and tell model has been a successful way for Manchester, Connecticut residents to learn about their local government. This model could help you effectively convey your government message too.
Mary Roche Cronin is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is the Director of Human Services for the Town of Manchester, Connecticut and has held that position since January 2005. She is responsible for management of four divisions, provides contract oversight for community agencies receiving town funding, and represents the town on community, regional and statewide human services planning and advisory groups. She also provides oversight of the department budget and state and federal grant funding. She has a Master’s degree in Child Welfare from St. Joseph College in West Hartford, Connecticut and a Juris Doctorate from Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, Massachusetts. You can read her posts here.