What Is Civic Inclusion and Why Does it Matter?

What occurs in a community is geographically personal. Regardless of who you are, as a resident of your community, you care about where you live. You want access to quality schools, safe neighborhoods, clean drinking water and the assurance that your local government leaders hear and respond to your concerns.

The question with respect to civic inclusion is: How do we support the whole jurisdiction while taking into consideration whether we fully understand our makeup or, more importantly, are we providing opportunities for all? Are we leaving anyone behind?

Civic inclusion should be driven by goals that can be measured and revised as needed. At its core, civic inclusion is about providing transparency, keeping the public informed, encouraging public participation, embracing civic engagement and placing an emphasis on equity for all.

By including the public early and often in decisionmaking, community leaders provide greater accountability and transparency. They also can learn where people are speaking up and where they are not, and what neighborhoods are at risk of falling behind. They can also cultivate ongoing public input to help build stronger, smarter communities.

The elements of civic inclusion are:

  • Transparency and accountability through a more informed public
  • Civic engagement through public information products, online community hubs, and interactive storytelling
  • Addressing social inequities using data and feedback

Communities that invest in civic inclusion know their residents and can make data-driven decisions based on the needs in a particular neighborhood.

Take, for example, the work to eradicate homelessness in San Bernardino County, California. The county embraced tools to collect field data for the annual point-in-time count early on but recognized the need to shift efforts to daily input from county staff and crowdsourced information from residents. This information feeds into operational dashboards that connect individuals experiencing homelessness to programs — as staff comes across an encampment or individual. These dashboards provide feedback on how well they are doing and allows for adaptations of tactics to achieve greater results.

This level of focus on citizens doesn’t just happen by chance. Governments must ask themselves a new set of questions: Do my policies support at-risk populations? What does the public think about the new development? How do I get volunteers to actively participate in government activities?

Prioritizing public engagement as a facet of your smart community information system, or the collection of technology powering your smart efforts provides an opportunity to evolve how you think about improving the lives of citizens and improving the effectiveness of staff.

Ultimately, communities can more proactively address issues of civic and social inequity based on feedback and data rather than assumptions. A smart community avoids losing sight of the very reason it exists: to serve citizens, all of its citizens. Data and analysis through a location-based approach ensure all things are considered, such as at-risk populations, neighborhood input and alternative feedback mechanisms to council meetings. This approach also ensures that more opportunities to inform and engage are extended and that communities always put their best foot forward to create equity and reverse social injustices.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent report, “Smart Communities: Turn to GIS to Achieve Civic Inclusion.” Download the full report here.

Photo credit: Paul Kim on Unsplash

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