Citizens and City Government Collaboration

Citizens and City Government Collaboration

Public Agenda; Cities of Service; Institute of Local Government

The levels of civility and trust between citizens and government officials are at their lowest point in memory and getting lower. (By citizens we mean all residents - not just people with US citizenship.) This trend continues at every level of governance, and it doesn’t seem to matter which political party is involved. Citizens expect the government to meet their needs but at the same time have little or no confidence in government to do so. Many cities and local government officials are deeply concerned and ready to transform how they work with citizens – and many have had success with fledgling or temporary initiatives.

Citizens have more trust and confidence in local government than state and federal government, but smart local officials are not taking that trust and confidence for granted. Interest from cities in understanding and applying successful ways to engage citizens positively in civic affairs is growing. Cities are experimenting. Now they need tools, resources, and support to start changing the official, antiquated structures for engaging the public.

Bridge Alliance members Public Agenda (PA), Cities of Service (CoS), and the Institute for LocalGovernment (ILG) will provide tools to address three aspects of the strained relationship:

  • Official interactions between citizens and local government – the meetings held by city councils, school boards, and planning commissions – are structured in ways that maximize tension and discourage deliberation and collaboration
  • Local government officials often underestimate or overlook the role and impact of citizens in public problem-solving
  • Public engagement is treated as a series of one-off events or processes – citizens aren’t changing the overall system for engagement

We want to change how people inside and outside local government communicate, change their perceptions of one another, and change how they think about their relationship. This will, in turn, lead to smarter public policies and better public problem-solving.

Our three organizations will develop a comprehensive engagement toolkit (the “Toolkit”) to help cities achieve the following objectives:

  • Make public meetings more productive;
  • Support city-led, citizen-powered impact volunteering; and
  • Measure the relationship between citizens and local government.

Our work together under this proposal will be the first major step in what we see as an ongoing, scalable, increasingly high-profile initiative. The development and eventual use of the Toolkit will proliferate within our existing relationships with local governments and engagement practitioners, as well as our larger network of associations and affiliated groups. We will use the communications capacities of our three organizations to highlight the importance and need of effective, tangible tools and resources for local government to engage with their citizens and generate a broader discussion about the future of engagement.