GSA Wants YOU To Participate!

As a govie, your mandate is to serve the public. To do so, there are various approaches and demographics to focus on, but at the end of the day, govies work hard to make this country better for all of its citizens. This can become difficult to do effectively, however, if the public is not engaged.

According to a Pew study, only 22% of American adults have attended a political meeting on local, town, or school affairs and a mere 13% have been an active member of a group that tries to influence the public or government. In addition, only 21% of American adults have recently contacted a government official about an issue that is important to them in person, by phone, or by letter, and only 18% have done so online via email or by text message. Political/civic activism on social media is a bit higher at 39%, but still well below half of respondents.

Why is this so? Are Americans confused by the public policy process? Disillusioned? Angry? Disempowered? Maybe they just don’t care. Whatever the cause, the General Services Administration (GSA) wants to reverse this trend through its Public Participation Playbook.

According to the GSA, the playbook is “a resource for government managers to effectively evaluate and build better services through public participation using best practices and performance metrics.” The GSA believes “public participation—where citizens help shape and implement government programs—is a foundation of open, transparent, and engaging government services.” The playbook has a checklist for each of its 12 plays, along with relevant case studies, resources, and metrics. The plays are listed within five overarching themes:

Establish goals

  • Play 1: Clearly define and communicate your objectives

Understand the Playing Field

  • Play 2: Understand your participants and stakeholder groups
  • Play 3: Understand and communicate the benefit of participation
  • Play 4: Empower participants through public/private partnership

Design Participation

  • Play 5: Select appropriate design format for public participation
  • Play 6: Design for inclusiveness
  • Play 7: Provide multi-tiered paths to participation
  • Play 8: Provide effective and timely notifications
  • Play 9: Encourage community building through responsive outreach
  • Play 10: Protect citizen privacy

Facilitate Participation

  • Play 11: Use Data to Drive Decision Making

Evaluate and Report

  • Play 12: Transparently report outcomes and performance of participation

Staying true to the mantra it champions, the playbook itself was created in a very collaborative and participatory process. It involved a team of 70 government leaders working with civil society organizations and citizens. Using the Madison platform, hosted by the OpenGov Foundation, there were three open comment periods that received hundreds of contributions. What’s more, the participation isn’t over. Stakeholders are still encouraged to contribute insights such as new plays, recommendations, resources, and more via email or the Madison platform.

If for some reason you’re still not convinced of the significant benefits of public engagement, the International Association For Public Participation (IAP2) lists seven core values. Public participation:

  1. Is based on the belief that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process.
  2. Includes the promise that the public’s contribution will influence the decision.
  3. Promotes sustainable decisions by recognizing and communicating the needs and interests of all participants, including decision makers.
  4. Seeks out and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision.
  5. Seeks input from participants in designing how they participate.
  6. Provides participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way.
  7. Communicates to participants how their input affected the decision.


In an atmosphere where public opinion of government is not at its highest and technology has provided new and innovative ways to reach citizens, the time is right to promote public participation and engagement. The GSA Public Participation Playbook – found at – is a great way to get started.

Also be sure to check out another post on public engagement and GovLoop’s Citizen Engagement Checklist!

Any other suggestions to increase public participation? Share below!

Image: Flickr Creative Commons, wilbur

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