A new understanding of how engagement works and an overview of the tools and resources available.
Before joining Public Agenda, I knew little about the different types of community engagement available to those who wish to play a greater role in the decision making that happens in their community. Outside of volunteering at local churches and programs sponsored by community organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Harlem where my own daughter participates, I was unaware of the many other ways people can become more involved in their neighborhoods.
That changed when I volunteered at a recent Public Agenda strategy workshop in New York City on public engagement. The workshop was a two-day event designed for leaders who want to revamp and strengthen their engagement strategies. Being there gave me a new understanding of how engagement works as well as an overview of the tools and resources available.
One interesting topic we discussed was Participatory Budgeting, a democratic type of engagement that allows members of a community to be involved in micro-decisions made for their neighborhood by voting on how to spend a portion of the public budget allocated to them. Types of projects that fall under Participatory Budgeting can include improvements to schools, parks, libraries, public housing and other public or community spaces.
A great example of a project funded through participatory budgeting happened in Council District 39 (Carroll Garden, Brooklyn), where PS 58, The Carroll Garden School, was able to replace fixtures and flushing mechanisms for eight of their bathrooms. Voted on in 2013, this project garnered 1,100 votes, had a budget of $110,000 and was funded in 2014.
Among the many resources which were discussed, two were of particular interest to me: SeeClickFix, an app designed to bring communities together to resolve local issues, and LocalWiki, a site that gives users the opportunity to learn more about where they live. Many more tools were presented at the strategy workshop, all of which have the potential to make significant impacts in communities across the world.
My experience at Public Agenda's strategy workshop was fun and enlightening. From learning about effective engagement tools and resources to directly participating in an exercise (based on a real case study) where teams had to build a sustainable engagement plan for a Bronx community, I now have a better understanding about engagement and am inspired to get involved with participatory budgeting in my neighborhood.
If you’re in the Chicago area on October 19 and want assistance with organizing and sustaining productive public engagement and bringing together a diverse critical mass of people, I highly recommend you attend the next Public Engagement strategy workshop. You can sign up for more information and register here.