In 2020, we decided to introduce CitizenLab in the US, one of the world’s biggest and arguably most influential democracies. Now, as our work grows across the United States we’ve decided to spend a few months in cities of various sizes from across the West to the East coast.
While we’ve been able to virtually connect with our US-based colleagues and clients during the pandemic, there’s something special about being fully immersed in the landscapes, culture, and debates of diverse communities.
My co-founder Aline and I came to the US to:
- Better understand the American political landscape, and look beyond the surface.
- Meet as many local governments as possible, and hear directly from them about their unique needs so we can further adapt our platform and methodologies to fit the American context.
- Further explore the differences of community engagement in Europe v. the US. By participating in various conferences and events while we’re here, we have an opportunity to engage with those who are doing engagement well and to learn which areas local governments want to improve.
- Grow our network and meet with potential partners. We know we’re not on this journey alone, so we want to find allies on our mission to bring digital democracy to the US. We’ve been engaging with participation practitioners, civic tech companies, governments, non-profits, and other organizations eager to move the field forward.
CitizenLab on a (US) mission
Given increased polarization in the last several years, part of our mission is to promote constructive dialogue in one of the world’s largest democracies. We’ve heard from local governments and communities alike that American society is increasingly divided, and debates are often so polarized that a civil conversation is not even possible.
While in the US, my co-founder Aline and I want to explore how community members, from diverse backgrounds and with different political viewpoints, could enter into constructive dialogue around shared community priorities.
In that same light, we want to further explore what truly inclusive engagement could look like. Like we’ve seen in Europe, governments across the US face the STP (Same Ten People) challenge in their community engagement work. Online community engagement can help expand the reach ten folds, but that’s not enough. We should make sure that everyone has an equal chance to be heard and that no one’s left out due to language barriers, accessibility issues, or other restrictions.
We will gradually introduce new features to our platform to help community leaders be structurally inclusive in their outreach and will pilot new solutions with US cities, such as through text messaging, audio messages, improved multi-lingual access, and more. Working with Lancaster, PA for the last several months we’ve already learned a lot from their equitable approach of combining offline and online community engagement, and are eager to see how other cities are innovating in this realm.
On our mission to help governments better listen to their community, we want to improve community insights by expanding the reach of what governments hear by incorporating voices from other communication channels (e.g. social media). We hope this can bolster governments’ abilities to efficiently engage their residents and stakeholders, truly hear their feedback, and better understand needs and aspirations.
Meet us on the road
We’ll be publishing takeaways from our time in the US over the coming months, so stay tuned. In the meantime, we’d love to meet you while we’re here! In the coming 6 months, we’ll be in and around Portland, Seattle, Chicago, NYC, DC, New Orleans, Austin, Denver, and San Francisco.
While here, we’d love to meet city managers, mayors, and engagement practitioners to chat about all the above and hear about your priorities.