By: Jamie Rae Walker and Suzanne Landau
The public’s voice is vital for governmental officials working to make sound decisions. The core principle is that people who are affected by a decision should participate in the decision-making process. This input can also help break down barriers between competing interests and give all sides more credibility.
Although public participation in government decision making is a key to democracy, recent research indicates that U.S. citizens are becoming less involved in civic and voluntary groups. Two causes of this decline, some believe, are that citizens lack civic skills and attitudes and that institutions and governments often conduct feedback processes poorly.
To increase the amount and quality of citizen feedback, city leaders and park managers can:
- Set clear goals for getting citizen input.
- Make sure that the participants are diverse and representative of the community.
- Adopt a framework for eliciting plentiful, good quality feedback.
The National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation has recommended the following principles and practices for improving citizen input.
- Careful planning and preparation: Set clear goals, select and recruit participants carefully, and design a process for achieving those goals and engaging those contributors.
- Inclusion and democratic diversity: Offer equal opportunities for many types of stakeholders to express their ideas. Design the activities to enable commonly silent or marginalized groups to contribute.
- Collaboration and shared purpose: Encourage cooperation among the public, local governments, and other institutions with a stake in the issue.
- Openness and learning: Help the participants feel free to share their opinions, listen to others, and learn more about the issue or goal at hand.
- Transparency and trust: Be open about the process, and publicize the names of organizers and sponsors, the results of the meetings, and the ideas and viewpoints offered.
- Impact and action: Let citizens know that their participation will affect the decisions made. Take action based on the ideas and information offered.
- Sustained engagement and participatory culture: Foster a “culture of participation,” in which citizens are motivated and mobilized to continue participating in the process.
In addition to working to reach broader audiences, leaders need to offer activities that are engaging and even fun. Researchers in public participation believe that when citizen input activities are interactive and enjoyable, they are more likely to accomplish their goals.
“Addressing the Citizenship and Democratic Deficits: The Potential of Deliberative Democracy for Public Administration.” By T. Nabatchi. 2010. The American Review of Public Administration, 40, 376–399
Core Principles for Public Engagement. National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. 2009. Retrieved from http:// ncdd.org/rc/item/3643
Engaging Citizen Input Activity: Getting out of the Box. By J. R. Walker and S. Landau. 2016. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. AgriLife.org/urbanparks
Going to the People and Getting the Feedback You Need. Slide presentation. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. 2013. AgriLife.org/urbanparks/
Paths to Participation: Developing Engaging Input Processes. By J. R. Walker. 2013. AgriLife.org/urbanparks/
Resource Guide on Public Engagement. National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation. 2010.
“Understanding Stakeholder Participation in Research as Part of Sustainable Development.” By S. Bell, S. Morse, and R. A. Shah, R. A. 2012. Journal of Environmental Management, 101, 1322
“Varieties of Participation in Complex Governance.” By A. Fung. 2006. Public Administration Review, 66, 66–75
For help in creating a citizen input process or other information on parks, contact your local county agent or Extension specialist at counties.AgriLife.org/ or rpts.tamu.edu/extension-programs.
Download a printer-friendly version of this publication: Encouraging Citizen Input on Parks: A Framework-Driven Approach
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