December 4, 2014


Three Ways Engagement Improves Relationships Between Residents and Public Officials


Public officials brainstorm hypothetical projects during a mock participatory budgeting exercise at the NLC's Congress of Cities.


Our local public officials are thirsty for better and deeper ways to engage the people they serve.

This sentiment was cast in sharp relief during a workshop on participatory budgeting at last month's National League of Cities Congress of Cities in Austin. Our partners at the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP for short) delivered the workshop to a variety of elected and appointed officials from cities across the country. Public Agenda's Allison Rizzolo attended the session and wrote about her experience on our blog.

Participants in the workshop shared the barriers they perceived as preventing them from engaging with constituents on a deeper level. These included:

    • Low participation. How can we get more people to show up and weigh in?
    • Boring meetings. How can we bring more enthusiasm and energy into decision making?
    • Drama. How do we keep resentful, angry, and inflammatory comments at bay so interactions and critiques are constructive?
    • Memories of mistrust. How do we acknowledge frustrated constituents and move forward?
    • Limited resources. How do we increase participation while making the best use of our time, energy and money?

It's no wonder healthier, deeper engagement with constituents seems a monumental task to officials.

Sure, deep, thoughtful and authentic engagement of constituents may not be easy. But these forms of engagement, through methods embraced by Public Agenda, the Participatory Budgeting Project and our peers, can contribute to a more informed citizenry and stronger communities.

Better engagement improves the relationship between officials and their constituents in many ways. Allison expands on three of them:

    • Constituents become more thoughtful and informed.
    • Engagement builds trust and promotes equity.
    • Engagement saves costs and effort.


And if you're interested in learning more about how Public Agenda can help you engage your constituents in better ways, please contact Susan Shelton at

The Price of Oil and Our Energy Choices

You may have heard over the holiday weekend that oil prices have plummeted. Barrels of oil currently cost about $30 less than they did 3 months ago. At the same time, the United States is producing more oil than it has in decades, mainly through new extraction methods, including fracking. 


This is good news for consumers who rely on cars and planes. But what do these developments mean for our economy, our energy security, foreign relations, and the future of renewable energy? 


Energy is a complicated issue. Fortunately, we have a resource to help you sort through it and weigh some of the realistic decisions - both personal and around national policy - we may face in the near future. Click here to check it out


PA in the News

A collection of stories citing work from Public Agenda and our Board and partners.
(Nieman Lab)
This article mentions The Deborah Wadsworth Fund. Supporters of the fund will help us work with WNYC to identify the top concerns and priorities of New Yorkers. Read more about the fund and our partnership with WNYC here. We also hope you consider donating to the fund

(Philadelphia Sun)
Our survey of young adults found that having health insurance would have helped some students complete their degrees. The Single Stop campaign aims to connect students to federal and state resources and local services so they can focus on continuing their education. 

(Inside Higher Ed)
One way higher education is adapting to meet the needs of non-traditional students is by moving away from credit-hour measurement. Brandman University, a member of the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) that Public Agenda coordinates, has designed a fully online program allowing students to work at their own pace while receiving federal financial aid. 

(Bridge Magazine)
The high school guidance system has struggled to keep up with aspirations of future college students. Our survey of 22 to 30 year olds found that six in 10 rate their high school counselors either "fair" or "poor" in helping them select a college, explain financial aid and navigate the college application process. In Michigan, a new bill has been introduced that would require new counselors to receive 45 hours of training specifically on the college selection process. 


Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at

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