Systems Of Local Governance And How Citizens Participate: An International Review Report Summary
This is a summary of an international review which analyses the local governance systems in seven case studies across the world, and how citizens are able to participate in local governance. The case studies are Denmark, England, Germany, New Zealand, Quebec, Scotland, and Uruguay. The full report of the review is available separately.
The international review contributes evidence and analysis to help inform the Local Governance Review , established to meet government manifesto commitments set out in successive Programmes for Government. The LGR is being undertaken by the Scottish Government in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities , and with the community sector in Scotland. The issues of concern for the LGR have been considered by commissions and independent reports in Scotland over the last twenty years they have commonly highlighted:
- a concern with government centralisation
- the quality of local democracy
- the lack of a constitutional/legal position for local government
- the fiscal position of local government
- the quality of citizen participation and
- unfavourable comparisons between Scotland and other countries, looking at quantitative measures such as the number of local authorities, their average geographic size, the size of the population they serve, the ratio of elected councillors to local electorate.
Common Types Of Citizen Engagement
When it comes to interacting with your community, theres no one-size-fits-all answer. Each local government will have a different technique, based on population size, demographics, geography, budget, local customs you get the idea.
That said, theres an arsenal of tactics that local governments often turn to, whether its Clark County, Nevada , the Leeds City Council, GB , or Walkerville, South Australia . Here are some of the most frequently used methods of engaging with citizens, plus some innovative spins applied by members of the Govlaunch community around the globe.
Town Halls & Meetings
These face-to-face gatherings have historically been one of the most direct ways for a local government to inform citizens what its working on. Its also been the channel for citizens to share feedback with city officials.
Local governments have been working to modernize the town hall and meeting experience. COVID-19 has forced this modernization. This includes offering digital meetings including town halls, virtual Q& As with officials such as the mayor or councilmembers, live streaming council meetings, and more. There are also new products, such as $ Voterfied$ , working to deliver a more interactive digital town hall experience, bringing more voices and opinions into the fold.
Examples of innovative local government meetings:
Examples of innovative community events:
Utilize Data To Improve Government Services
With digital services comes lots of actionable data, all of which can be visualized and examined. Are departments quickly resolving incoming citizen concerns? How many permit applications are being filed each month? What are the approval rates and how are they changing over time? How many small businesses within a specific economic zone applied for an emergency relief loan? How many won? How has the response and resolution time for IT tickets across the entire government changed and what needs to be adjusted? With a unified cloud-based platform like GovPilot, employees and elected officials can clearly see work that is being performed the same, better, or worse than it was before the transition to virtualizationacross jobs, teams, and functions.
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Civic Engagement And Well
People engaged in their communities tend to be more invested in their communities health and well-being. When people volunteer their time, skills, knowledge, and enthusiasm to promote the quality of their community, they exhibit civic leadership by finding ways to positively impact their communities for the common good. They see their role in a larger context, beyond only what affects them and their families to what affects society as a whole.
In turn, engagement in ones community is directly correlated with greater reported feelings of happiness and trust. The 2021 American Community Life Survey found that when it came to Americans rating their communities as excellent, good, fair, or poor, the driving factors was social interaction, such as interacting with friends and neighbors or volunteering with community organizations.
Overall, 29% of Americans rate their communities as excellent and 56% of Americans rate their communities as good. Among Americans who report going to religious services at least once a week, 40% rate their communities as excellent among those who do not attend, only 25% rate their communities as excellent. Similarly, 46% of Americans who volunteer at least once a week think their communities are excellent, compared to only 24% of those who do not.
Resource Guides For Community Engagement
There are many sites that publish, curate, and make available extensive resources relating to community engagement and public participation tools and techniques. Here are a few that we have found to be most useful, together with links to some selected references.
- Alliance for Innovation
- Community Engagement Offers articles, documents, and publications on the subject.
- Assessment Tool for Civic Engagement Practices Helps local governments assess their readiness and capacity for engagement.
- Connected Communities White Paper Outlines a variety of engagement strategies communities and includes case studies of successful local government efforts to involve citizens in decision-making and problem-solving.
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Types Of Civic Engagement For Local Governments
What should civic engagement look like moving ahead? How should the constituent experience be improved in order to have a noticeable impact on their lives while making government more efficient, transparent, and responsive? Here are four examples of activities local governments can focus on in order to innovate within their communities, build trust, and improve civic engagement.
Civic Engagement Now And In The Future
Take a moment to think about your community and how you define and measure civic engagement. Is it just a buzzword or something youre pursuing strategically? Have you broadened your definition to include social media and website participation? Do you use the input you receive to build better outcomes for citizens? In upcoming posts well dig deeper into some of these questions and show you how to make significant short and long-term improvements.
At Granicus, we specialize in helping agencies research and implement user-focused improvements, and are always happy to discuss your particular needs. Request a free consultation now.
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Digital Tools For Citizen Engagement In Local Government
So, how can we create high-quality citizen engagement in local government?
Luckily, there are lessons from consumer-focused companies that illuminate the way. By adopting user-centric systems that feel personal, responsive, and easy to use, local governments can offer residents an experience thats on-par with that of private sector companies.
Here are a few tech-driven features that will help them do just that:
Strategic Utilization Of Federal Relief For State And Local Governments
At the national level, the Federal Government is preparing a second round of relief that when passed, will provide funding to local and state governments across the country. The $1.9 Trillion American Rescue Plan has $350 billion earmarked for local governments. As the CARES Act did, the American Rescue Plan will include provisions to enable local and state governments to allocate funds toward IT modernization and government software solutions. Additionally, the Biden administration has proposed adding $9 billion to the Technology Modernization Fund for setting up shared IT and cybersecurity services across government.
According to Deloitte Insights, the pandemic forced governments not only to meet a sudden surge in service demand but to do so remotely. The result was that many governments had to quickly pivot their workforces to remote work and create new channels for virtual and digital service deliveryall at scale, in a matter of weeks. For many, the answer to this challenge lay in harnessing the cloud.
While there are many solutions for remote work, from remote desktops to virtual private networks, many governments that depended on these solutions found them insufficient for coping with the sudden scale of remote work during the pandemic. Cloud platforms, on the other hand, by its very nature, were more quickly scalable, allowing for a seamless transition to, and coordination of telework.
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Citizen Engagement With Local Government And The Role Of Social Media
Citizen engagement in government decisions that goes beyond tokenism can be a critical part of upholding democracy . In citizen-driven governance, there is a distinct difference between participation and engagement. Participation implies that stakeholders’ voices are heard by decision-makers, whereas engagement means ensuring a deliberate process through which stakeholders influence decisions that result in action . Good citizen engagement tools promote
What Services Should You Prioritize
Local Government customer service can be improved by increasing accessibility. Between the boom of the internet and smartphones, the changing preferences of younger citizens, and the desire to engage, digital accessibility is a must. But with budgetary and time limitations, tackling everything at once is just not possible. What should you prioritize?
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The Relationship Between National And Local Governance
In Germany, Denmark, Uruguay, a constitution provides a legal foundation for the role of local governance and its relationship with central government. In Scotland, England and New Zealand, a range of legislation together describes the role and responsibility of local government. Academic commentators reflect that the strength of constitutional protections for local governance have perhaps been overstated. Local autonomy for decision-making is not an absolute but rather is experienced as degrees of autonomy. Local autonomy can vary depending on the policy area and in forms of legal and financial discretion.
Across the case studies, there is evidence of limits on the decision-making autonomy of local governance as a result of the exercise of central government direction and control. Central government can exert power and control over local governance in a range of ways:
Citizen Engagement Is The Future
Citizens are becoming more and more engaged in their local governments and broader communities, and this can reasonably be expected to continue. We are living in a world whose uncertainties and recent events have spurred citizens to action. The only way we can face many of the most pressing issues of our time is together. So, make sure your city is providing every avenue for effective citizen participation and engagement. Together, communities can accomplish anything.
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What Engagement Means To Consumer Brands
When thinking about engagement in todays world, consider how consumers interact online with a brand. They visit the website, they may sign up for a newsletter or follow on social media. Perhaps they fill out a survey or participate in an online poll. There are so many ways to proactively participate in branded communities, and consumers do so with enthusiasm.
Municipal websites have more in common with consumer brand websites than they may think. Like consumer brands, local governments have a built-in audience with a vested interest in their success, since the well-being of the community directly impacts citizens quality of life. Voters legitimately care and want to be involved but may not know how to make their voices heard. Its up to government leaders to reach out these potential brand advocates and use proven engagement techniques to forge connections.
Focus Groups And Other Small Group Processes
Focus group meetings provide particularly fertile ground for understanding the unique needs and interests of various community or business groups. They are designed to get at the unique perspectives/opinions of specific groups, to benefit from the groups’ shared knowledge, and to understand how various groups would be affected by programs or policies. They generally encourage free expression and interaction.
The back-and-forth exchange of information can lead to a creative combining of ideas and balancing of interests to refine alternatives or create entirely new solutions. Some communities break a larger audience into small “roundtable” discussion groups to focus on specific issues following a presentation to the entire audience. In either approach, the small group setting offers a more comfortable setting for speaking freely, listening, and interacting with others.
- National Center for Civic Innovation: Tips for Conducting Focus Groups and Citizen Surveys to Develop Government Performance Measures and Reports
- University Place Resident Focus Group 2011 Report Includes sections on focus group recruitment, group discussion guide, and procedures.
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Putting Conversations To Work
To follow in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers of our country and others who came before us, here are some ways weve found we can start to walk the talk and add value as a citizen:
How Citizens Want To Access Services
Omnichannel is the word of the day. 60% of respondents who use Local Government services selected more than one medium as their preferred method of access. That means three out of five people like to connect with their government using multiple methods.
While traditional methods of in-person and phone calls to engage top the charts, 62% of people like to reach for a smartphone, tablet, or computer to connect with Local Government.
People today want to engage in multiple and varied ways. Local Government should be ready to serve.
Interaction with government is still going to continue to be a multi-channel engagementWhat youre starting to see is peoples comfort level increasing with those digital interactions, be it a mobile app, chatbot or some sort of virtual engagement because at the end of the day just want convenience.
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Local Democracy And Politics
Local politics in the case studies tends to be dominated by councillors that are members of national political parties. This poses the risk that national political issues and interests predominate over local ones. This varies in some of the case studies. For example, a feature of local politics in Germany is municipal councils led by coalitions which include independent groups. In Quebec, a large number of registered municipal political parties are not officially linked to parties at the provincial level. Ongoing governance reforms in Uruguay are seeking gradually to enable and encourage local politics to grow, distinct from the national agenda that has predominated in the past.
The position of mayor at the municipal level is present in some form in most of the case studies. But the role and decision-making authority of that position, and how they are elected varies. Scotland is notable in having no model of local mayor. In England, mayors have been established but not universally. They tend to have responsibilities at a higher level of governance, and over larger territories, than is typical in the other case studies.
Why Is It Important
Citizen engagement is at the core of democracy and a representative government. A world without citizen engagement is one in which government officials remain in the dark about the will of the people. Thats why expanding citizen engagement through digital channelswhich can be accessed anytime, anywhereis vitally important. Todays citizens have high expectations about the way they interact with private business and also the public sector institutions that support them. Automating engagement, and bringing the information to the citizen ultimately increases engagement.
Increasingly, citizen engagement is moving into digital environments, where people can watch live streaming of public meetings, submit comments about legislation, or apply for a citizen board seat. Citizens prefer to engage with their local, state, and federal agencies but often find they lack the time. Enabling digital engagement allows citizens to easily participate in increasing positive outcomes for all.
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Why Citizen Engagement In Local Government Matters
Local governments have many critical goals, from supporting local businesses, to protecting residents from crime or fire, to providing programs that keep kids safe and active after school. To be accomplished in any meaningful way, each of these goals requires trust, participation, and support from residents.
When citizens have a positive perception of what its like to engage with their local government, theyre more likely to trust and rely on government systems in the future. According to one study from McKinsey, residents are nine times more likely to say they trust a government agency if theyre satisfied with its service. But if they find engaging with that service difficult, confusing, or frustrating, theyre more likely to mistrust that agency, and avoid further engagement unless its absolutely necessary.
For this reason, it matters a great deal whether or not its easy and convenient for your residents to take part in a public meeting, pay a fine, or find answers to their civic questions. High-quality citizen experiences make it easier for people to engage with their local government, which boosts public trust and helps government agencies do everything they do better.