How Can Public Participation in Government be Improved?

voxpopuliIt is a question asked by anyone who has been involved in local government.  Over at Governing, Mark Funkhouser has some thoughts:

In a recent study entitled Making Public Participation Legal, Matt Leighninger cites a Knight Foundation report that found that attending a public meeting was more likely to reduce a person’s sense of efficacy and attachment to the community than to increase it. That sad fact is no surprise to the government officials who have to run — and endure — public meetings.

Every public official who has served for any length of time has horror stories about these forums. The usual suspects show up — the self-appointed activists (who sometimes seem to be just a little nuts) and the lobbyists. . . .

Clearly the relationship between citizens and their governments needs to be reframed. Fortunately, over the last couple of decades lots of techniques have been developed by advocates of deliberative democracy and citizen participation that provide both more meaningful engagement and better community outcomes. There are decision-making forums, “visioning” forums and facilitated group meetings, most of which feature some combination of large-group, small-group and online interactions.

But here’s the rub: Our legal framework doesn’t support these new methods of public participation. This fact is made clear in Making Public Participation Legal, which was compiled by a working group that included people from the National Civic League, the American Bar Association, the International City/County Management Association and a number of leading practitioners of public participation.

An interesting take on the issue.  Read more about it here.

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