Testing the Waters: California’s Local Officials Experiment with New Ways to Engage the Public

May 20, 2013

This report explores the attitudes of California’s local officials toward public participation in local governance. These officials believe that the current models for including the public in local decision making fail to meet the needs of both residents and local officials. Most local officials seek broad-based participation from the public and want to hear more about approaches that have worked elsewhere. Many are already experimenting with more inclusive and deliberative forms of engagement. Overall, this study suggests California’s local officials may be ready for newer and more effective ways to engage the public and for stronger collaborations with community-based organizations.

The report also includes concrete recommendations for local officials and their institutions, civic leaders and their organizations, and foundations and other funders. The recommendations can help improve public engagement in local governance throughout California and, we hope, beyond.

Public Agenda conducted this research in partnership with the Institute of Local Government and The Davenport Institute at Pepperdine University. The work was commissioned by the James Irvine Foundation.

Data for this research was collected through a statewide, representative survey of 900 local officials, conducted between July 10 and August 23, 2012, and through additional focus groups and individual interviews with local officials across the state. The study included both elected and nonelected officials.