The Desire for Effective Community Outreach

In my experience working with municipal governments, I have faced the question time again, “How do we better engage our citizens to give input to our ideas for the future?” In today’s highly polarized world, it seems that citizens will become involved every two to four years when the national or state-level political train comes to town, but finding consistent participation at the local level of government can be extremely difficult. Surely, elected mayors and city council members would love to know what their constituents are thinking the years in between their re-election bids.

To help overcome this challenge, Rick Davis and Dan Griffiths, co-authors of the recently released book, “Elevating Trust in Local Government: the power of community-based strategic planning”, will share their combined decades of experience through an upcoming blog and webinar series.

I participate on the community council for my neighborhood near downtown Salt Lake City. In a recent meeting, a representative from the city presented on a proposition to increase local sales taxes to fund additional development and services. Throughout the presentation, they would spit off statistic after statistic, citing poll numbers as proof of public support from the community. “Seventy percent of neighborhoods use these services” they would say, or “60 percent feel that this is of utmost importance”. After the presentation, the room full of 40 engaged citizens had multiple questions about these proposals. Based on the questions asked, this was clearly the first time that they had heard of the proposed tax increase. If the people in this room, those arguably most involved and willing to lend feedback to such an initiative, were not accounted for in community outreach, then where was this silent majority coming from? This got me thinking, it’s not that 60% of the community supported the tax increase, it’s that 60% of those polled supported the tax increase. After all, 6 out of 10 total people polled showing support would constitute 60% in favor.

This experience illustrates a recurring theme across local government: community leaders want to have the confidence that they have the support of their community. After who can fight a proposal that has the apparent backing of the community?

Back to the challenge at hand: how do we increase participation and engagement in our local communities? Over the next couple months, our blog series will cover the ins and outs of reaching the ears and minds of your citizens. We hope you will join us for a culmination on this topic in the form of a live Webinar in where we will discuss practical strategies for achieving community engagement. Rick and Dan will share their insights and strategies for tackling this issue, and answer questions you might have relating to your respective communities.

-Mackey Smith