July 11, 2013
In this issue:
Trends in Local Public Engagement

On the Agenda: From the Public Agenda Blog

Engaging Ideas

Join Us:
Help our nation make progress on its toughest challenges. Donate today.

 Twitter Icon Facebook Icon Pinterest Icon

If you no longer wish to receive newsletters,

Click here to unsubscribe.
Trends in Local Public Engagement
teachers Given the state of our national politics, if your 4th of July celebrations included a healthy dose of cynicism, you're not alone. After all, this Congress is on track to be the least productive in the history of the United States. But it's also important – and heartening – to remember that positive change is happening in communities around the country.

Local politics are close to home, and it seems much easier to effect positive change in your own community than it does nationally. Engaging with local officials on community decisions is only so far as the next public hearing or city council meeting.

This doesn't mean that the attempts that local officials make to include residents in decision making are perfect. There are many examples what Leslie Knope would call "people caring loudly at me." And, unfortunately, these instances of poorly designed and executed public engagement often just to lead to more bad public engagement and an erosion of trust between local officials and the public.

However, via our work in communities throughout the country and from recent research in California, a few trends, practices and outcomes have heartened us. We hope they hearten you too:

Local officials are embracing public engagement more and more. In our recent research with local officials throughout California, 85 percent noted that "their views of public engagement have changed since their careers began" with 42 percent saying that these views “have changed a lot.”

Examples of good local engagement abound. It's not just attitudes that are shifting; it's actions, among local officials, civic leaders and residents alike. Examples include the Participatory Budgeting Project and efforts from the National League of Cities. Many other examples of sound, local civic engagement can be found in the writings of Matt Leighninger and at the websites of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, the Institute for Local Government, the Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University and our own Center for Advances in Public Engagement.

Good engagement can be truly transformative. Sound and creative public engagement practices can transform communities in a number of ways. They raise expectations and build communication and trust between residents and local officials. They generate the kind of public support and public-private civic partnerships that get parks cleaned up, bridges repaired, children educated and communities strengthened.

Through well-designed engagement, public officials come to understand that citizens can play a constructive role in shaping the policies that affect their community. They're amazed at how thoughtful and constructive people can be, given a little information, a few tools and a modicum of the right support.

Positive experiences with public engagement can also inspire and energize residents, including those who are often disenfranchised. Leaders of community-based organizations told us in interviews that positive engagement experiences have the power to keep community members involved, generate new local leaders, and show residents that neighborhoods, towns and cities are made better by greater public involvement in government.

On the Agenda: From the Public Agenda Blog

4 Ways Clickers Can Improve Group Discussion and Deliberation

Though tech innovations can be helpful in improving communication and engagement, some make the mistake of relying too heavily on technology as a stand in for other communication practices. Using audience response systems (keypads or clickers) alone won’t support better interactions between people, but, when used appropriately, this technology does have the potential to immensely improve engagement practices.

Better Collaboration Needed Among Nurses and Physicians

The United States faces a looming physician shortage that threatens to deepen once the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented. Yet it may be that the physician shortage is just one part of the problem when it comes to the supply of medical professionals in this country.

Civic Leaders: Inspiring Engagement and Empowering Communities

Often, people do not believe that they can make a difference when it comes to the decisions that shape their communities. But, when they are shown otherwise, many are ready to jump on the chance to get involved.

Via the Huffington Post: Revitalizing Democracy, Community by Community Public Agenda

President Will Friedman talks more about the positive changes afoot in local politics, how bad engagement begets bad engagement, and how good engagement can transform communities.

Are you following our blogs? Subscribe to the On the Agenda RSS feed and sign up to get updates from Will's Huffington Post blog!

Engaging Ideas

'Non-traditional' Students Are Majority on College Campuses

Non-traditional students – including those who are part-time, attend a two-year or for-profit institution, or are over the age of 21 – have become the norm on college campuses. Only a fraction (5.2 million) of the 18 million undergraduates would be considered "traditional," though the idea of this type of student typically dominates the minds of the public when discussing the value of a college education.

New Study Shows Parent Involvement Leads to Better Classroom Attention

A study of preschoolers enrolled in Oregon’s Head Start program suggests parental involvement may be a factor in preschooler’s ability to retain attention in the classroom. The study found that children whose parents received additional attention instruction showed a 50 percent increase in brain activity compared to other children whose parents had little or no instruction.

How Walkability Shapes Political Activism

Can a city’s walkability determine how politically active its citizens will be? A new study looks at the correlation between social organizations and the design, walkability, and density of cities.

With IBM, Montpellier asks citizens to ‘author’ a smart city

Citizens in Montpellier, France are being asked to take part in shaping their city by creating uses for data collected on things such as transportation and water usage. To further engage citizens and get their feedback, the city is also creating an app and organizing public meetings.

Most Cities Don’t Need Innovation Offices

Rachel Burstein of the California Civic Innovation Project explores why cities need to think carefully and critically about capacity building before jumping on the “Innovation Office” bandwagon, and makes a case for strengthening personal networks in local government in order to encourage innovation.

Happy Fourth

And finally, in his reflection on July 4th, Charles Pierce poses the ultimate question of democracy: Do you govern or are you governed?