Governing communities is more complex than ever before. Local officials are working to address complicated, multifaceted questions such as:
When people have bad interactions with local governments, school systems, state or federal agencies, or other institutions, they become less trusting of the institution, less connected to the community, and less willing to support the community financially. Unfortunately, current public engagement processes – like what you find in many official public meetings – can damage and polarize communities and are likely not representative of the impacted population.
But efficient and effective public engagement can:
Public Agenda provides insights and tools that help you productively address conflict, transform unworkable processes, and maximize the many benefits of public participation. We help you understand your engagement strengths and weaknesses, and develop strategies for long-term success. Our focus can be project-specific or systemic.
We respond to immediate engagement needs, by helping you:
We also support long-term engagement success, by helping you:
Our network consists of partners who tap into the power of:
Assessment of the state of public engagement in your city – We understand that government decisions often call for unanticipated, one-off public engagement projects. At the same time, public engagement is more productive, efficient and meaningful when it occurs as part of a community-wide system rather than a series of occasional projects initiated by government. We can help you build and sustain such a system.
Public Agenda can employ a wide variety of assessment tools and strategies, including interviews, focus groups, polling, online scans, and mobile survey technology, to help evaluate the state of engagement locally. There are three main options:
The results of these assessments can be shared in public reports, such as Strengthening Public Engagement in Edmonton, or in private briefings.
Democratic innovation workshop – Public engagement is a fast-moving field, with new online tools and meeting formats emerging constantly, along with new thinking about how to apply these principles and practices in more sustained ways. When cross-sector teams of government officials and employees, school administrators, neighborhood leaders, funders, university faculty, and other leaders have a chance to learn and plan together, they can produce and sustain public engagement and sustain community engagement capacity that is more efficient, collaborative, and compelling for citizens. Public Agenda holds two-day workshops that help people understand how to minimize conflict, transform unworkable processes, and maximize the many benefits of engagement. These trainings feature practical tools from Public Participation for 21st Century Democracy (Nabatchi and Leighninger 2015).
Legal and policy framework overhaul – In most cities, the laws and policies on public engagement are not yielding the kind of public participation that elected officials want, or that the public finds useful. As a result, local officials and employees lack the leeway and incentives to try more innovative, productive ways of working with citizens. Using sample engagement protocols and job descriptions, assessment measures like the Participation Index, tools like the Model Ordinance on Public Participation (developed by a coalition that included the National League of Cities, Int’l City/County Management Association, and Int’l Municipal Lawyers Association), Public Agenda can help communities rethink their legal and policy framework for engagement. In most cases, this work would include interviews, scans of the legal and policy documents, and meetings with city staff and the city council.
Comprehensive engagement planning process – Incorporating the other technical assistance opportunities, a comprehensive, three-month planning process engages the public in figuring out how public engagement can be meaningful, productive, and sustainable. This kind of planning can help cities move past unworkable public meetings, take advantage of the new local online landscape for engagement, articulate the impacts they want out of the public engagement, devise a pattern of regularly occurring engagement opportunities that are both powerful and enjoyable. Building this kind of civic infrastructure is difficult without building broad support through an intensive process that includes assessment, workshops, planning meetings, and partnerships with the media; Public Agenda can assist in all of these areas.