And just like that, it’s March again. Winter’s cold has thawed, but our cities aren’t quite teeming with life just yet. A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time for reflection.
This past year has been profoundly transformative for people, workplaces, organizations, communities, and governments worldwide. We’ve been forced to reevaluate how we live our lives and make our living in ways that have rocked us to our core and tested our resilience. As many countries struggled to flatten the curve and stop the spread, community engagement emerged as a non-negotiable for crisis management, community building, and recovery.
Let’s take a look at the most interesting community engagement and Civic Tech stories that have dominated the news cycle this past month.
With the coronavirus dominating the news, we’d nearly forget there are other pressingly urgent matters to tackle—climate change, for example. According to the Scottish government, that responsibility lies with each individual. Scotland’s Climate Assembly, consisting of 100 Scots roughly representative of the wider population, was set up to directly involve the public in climate-related policy-making.
“This is a learning journey I believe all of us in Scotland now need to take together. For the first time, ordinary folk are today setting out for our parliament a concrete program so that Scotland can take the lead in tackling the climate emergency,” says Ruth Harvey, co-convener of the Climate Assembly. A must-read for those wondering how to involve people and local communities in climate initiatives.
As the coronavirus has forced many parts of everyday life into the digital realm, it’s essential to keep in mind that access to digital tools and an internet connection is a privilege. Not everyone has the means to be connected all the time, and as this article states, “big retailers can afford to focus their efforts on the connected majority, but government must serve everyone.”
A similar inequality exists when it comes to banking. When the government shifts general services like tax payments online, what happens to those who prefer to pay in cash? Those who lack the computer skills to make online payments? Those who do not have viable bank accounts? This article highlights how local governments deal with this access gap by developing innovative solutions to allow for in-person payment. An inspiring must-read for local governments on catering to community groups with fewer available resources.
“Is it possible for local government to earn even more trust from residents? And, if so, how would you know if you’ve done it?” This was the question plaguing Matt Broffman, chief innovation officer for the city of Orlando, Florida. To gauge residents’ satisfaction, Broffman decided to integrate surveys into a plethora of city services and committed to tackling complaints immediately. Each of the surveys also asked the Big Question: “How much trust or distrust do you have in the City of Orlando when it comes to handling local problems?”
What happened next is remarkable, to say the least. Between 2018 and 2020, the number of residents claiming to have “some or a lot of trust” in the city administration rose from 64% to 76%. This effort to measure and build trust earned the city of Orlando an innovation award from Harvard’s Technology and Entrepreneurship Center. A must-read for cities looking to build trust and improve digital services.
What is the principal goal of public deliberation? Two differing answers prevail, more specifically the empowerment view (“empowering citizens”) and the effectiveness view (“help governments make better decisions and solve complex problems”). These two currents aren’t mutually exclusive, but usually one is prioritized at the expense of the other, and this choice impacts the entire process.
In this article, co-chairs of the Open Government Parnership’s practice group on Dialogue and Deliberation Don Lenihan and Damian Carmichael analyse the specifics of both views and their respective effects on participants, process design, and the attitudes surrounding the process. A must-read for those looking to broaden their general knowledge of public deliberation.
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a more flexible successor of the CARES Act in 2020, provides ca. $350 billion in relief funding to state and local governments across the US. While this offers vital support to communities of all sizes, resources remain limited, and both governments and residents have ideas on how this money should be spent today.
Community engagement projects can help local governments better understand their communities’ priorities and allocate funding more equitably according to the most immediate needs. Besides, it could increase support for medium and long-term growth strategies and help to measure impact. This article offers an in-depth overview of the different elements in this equation. A must-read for local governments looking to allocate stimulus funding budgets through community engagement projects.
Reducing inequality within local communities has been at the top of public servants’ priority list for decades now, and yet, it still persists. According to this article, experimentation—”testing new ideas, gathering information on what works, and looking closely at the impact of interventions”—is key to improve equality, create more inclusive workspaces, and build policies that benefit us all.
The strength of an experimental approach holes in 4 layers: understanding the problem, testing assumptions, designing better interventions, and measuring impact. Of course, “experiments are just one tool of many that public servants will need to make the world a fairer place. But when used correctly, they help edge us closer towards our desired goal and have better results.” A must-read for local governments looking for ways to tackle inequalities in their own communities.