Local government employees work closely with members of the public, providing essential services and making important policy decisions that affect their communities. Similar to both state and federal budgets, many local budgets are currently stretched pretty thin. Thus, local government is fertile ground for developing and testing public engagement strategies, to determine best practices and demonstrate the value of such engagement.
The Institute for Local Government, a 501 (c)(3) organization based in Sacramento, California “promotes good government at the local level with practical, impartial, and easy-to-use resources” for communities. Their website offers helpful resources on a variety of topics, including public engagement.
They offer the following as principles of local government public engagement:
Inclusive Planning: The planning and design of any public engagement process should include input from appropriate local officials as well as from members of intended participant communities.
Transparency: There is clarity and transparency about public engagement process sponsorship, purpose, design, and how decision makers will use the process results.
Authentic Intent: A primary purpose of the public engagement process is to generate public views and ideas to help shape local government action or policy, rather than persuade residents to accept a decision that has already been made.
Breadth of Participation: The public engagement process includes people and viewpoints that are broadly reflective of the local agency’s population of affected residents.
Informed Participation: Participants in the public engagement process have information and/or access to expertise consistent with the work that sponsors and conveners ask them to do.
Accessible Participation: Public engagement processes are broadly accessible in terms of location, time, and language, and support the engagement of residents with disabilities.
Appropriate Processes: The public engagement process utilizes one or more discussion formats that are responsive to the needs of identified participant groups; and encourage full, authentic, effective, and equitable participation consistent with process purposes. This may include relationships with existing community forums.
Authentic Use of Information Received: The ideas, preferences, and/or recommendations contributed by the public are documented and seriously considered by decision makers.
Feedback to Participants: Local officials communicate ultimate decisions back to process participants and the broader public, with a description of how the public input was considered and used.
Evaluation: Sponsors and participants evaluate each public engagement process with the collected feedback and learning shared broadly and applied to future engagement efforts.
ILG also offers advice on measuring the success of local government public engagement, so local govies and other stakeholders can determine if their efforts are effective and worthwhile.