Beyond civility: From public engagement to problem solving

4 02 2011

The National League of Cities (NLC) recently released a 10-page “Civility Guide” as an “action guide for city leaders.” Thanks to the blog at civsourceonline.com for highlighting this new publication. It provides practical and thoughtful tips along with quotes from representative local government leaders and examples of the seven principles they put forward.

NLC Executive Director Donald J. Borut wrote, The  following action guide draws on NLC’s continuing work on this topic to present cities and city leaders with ideas and a framework for action to promote democratic governance. As NLC defines it, democratic governance is “the art of governing a community in participatory, deliberative, inclusive and collaborative ways.” This isn’t easy work, but it is essential to the effective functioning of our cities and our society.

The publication is succinct and easy to follow. For P2 practitioners, there is nothing stunningly new in its content, but it is refreshing to hear proponents for meaningful public participation coming from within local government.

One of the most striking statements in the document was acknowledgement that city officials, staff and citizens need training and/or some kind of better understanding of effective public engagement. In a 2010 NLC survey, about half of all city officials and top staff surveyed said that neither they nor their constituents have the skills and experience needed to carry out effective public engagement. To me, this is a call to action for P2 folks to rise to the challenge of equipping our clients and communities! I am convinced that once someone has experienced “effective public engagement” – meaning, that citizens feel heard or decision-makers feel they have a better outcome because of public input – people become believers in and advocates for meaningful public processes.

I encourage you to check out this guide and share your thoughts on what is most compelling to you.