How to Promote Citizen Engagement in Local Government
What is Citizen Engagement?
Citizen engagement encompasses all two-way interactions between constituents and the government. This includes voting, activism, volunteering, donating blood, writing to lawmakers, and much more. These actions give citizens the ability to help shape government decision-making and have an impact on the quality of life in their communities.
Why Engaging Citizens Matters
Towns and cities with high civic engagement have a higher quality of life and can solve local issues better and more efficiently than areas with low engagement. Encouraging citizens to become involved in their local communities shows them that their actions can have a positive impact on their neighborhood and that their voice matters. With an engaged citizenry, your efforts to improve your district will have more support and result in better outcomes.
How Local Governments Can Improve Citizen Engagement
While no two districts are the same, there are some principles of engagement that should play a role in any civic engagement plan. Below we list and define six core principles of civic engagement and describe their importance.
During the pandemic, local governments were under pressure to think creatively to continue to provide services, and they delivered. Tasks such as obtaining building permits, paying parking fines, and vehicle registration were quickly moved online. Quality of life programs, including open streets initiatives and mobile food delivery programs, were implemented. These innovations showed nimbleness, flexibility and resourcefulness, and helped ease stress for citizens. Local governments should strive to keep this spirit of innovation moving forward.
Proactively reach out to citizens with information and updates on projects and initiatives, upcoming meetings, and budgetary issues. Create a simple way for citizens to send in questions or suggestions to your office and have a system for answering queries promptly. The use of citizen engagement software like that offered by Indigov can help you track and respond to questions promptly, as well as create professional, branded communications and establish a schedule for regular outreach.
Utilize Federal Relief
The American Rescue Plan has earmarked $350 billion for local governments. Strategically using these funds can greatly increase citizen satisfaction. Many local and state municipalities plan to invest in technology upgrades such as new government software solutions to improve efficiency and information security and enable greater productivity. This investment in IT infrastructure can greatly reduce the turnaround time to complete government-related tasks, an improvement sure to make constituents happy.
Hold Public Forums
To truly understand the needs of your community, you need to hear directly from them. Holding regular public forums gives citizens the opportunity to voice their concerns, provide feedback, and offer suggestions for civic improvements. Schedule forums at convenient times for your community and consider livestreaming them to further increase participation.
Transparency breeds trust, and a strong democracy requires trust between citizens and government leaders. You can help build trust by making public records, such as budgets, meeting minutes, and planning documents, easily accessible online. Having access to these documents results in better-informed citizens that feel empowered to more fully participate in the decision-making process.
Make Information Easily Available
With all that constituents have on their plates – families, jobs, hobbies – local governments should strive to make learning about and completing government-related tasks quick and easy. One of the most effective ways to do this is through an intuitive, well-organized website. Indigov can help your office develop a robust website with an easy-to-use content management system that makes keeping it updated a breeze. When citizens know they can find accurate information quickly, they’re more likely to become repeat visitors to your site, giving you more opportunities to engage with them.
How to Measure Local Government Citizen Engagement
Traditionally, local governments measured civic engagement by the number of attendees at meetings and constituents who voted in elections. While these numbers are valuable, the digital age has ushered in new ways of collecting data that can give you a better idea of the involvement and interests of your constituents.
For instance, you can track the open rates of your newsletter and review which articles generate the most readership. You can monitor your social media accounts to determine which posts were shared most frequently and generated the most likes. You can also measure how many citizens subscribe to your digital communications and visit your website.
Taking all this data into account gives you a robust picture of engagement in your community. You can use this information to develop campaigns targeted to groups with an interest in a specific issue or initiative, and to identify segments of the population that require a greater effort to motivate them to participate. The more perspectives you can capture, the better your policies and initiatives will reflect the needs and wants of your entire constituency.
Increase Citizen Engagement in Your Community
Citizen engagement provides undeniable benefits to local communities. By following the strategies above, you can increase participation within your district. The strategic use of citizen engagement software can support your civic engagement efforts, helping you create professional, timely communications that keep your constituents informed of the most important issues in your community. Contact us to learn more about how Indigov can help you.