Jim Mowrer Des Moines Iowa Civic Engagement

Local civic engagement creates a dynamic network of volunteers, political leaders, organizations, and individuals who share the desire to improve their community. On the other hand, civic engagement can lead to conflict over the best means of community improvement. Some community members may be ignored or undervalued, while other members can leverage their knowledge or influence to benefit a few rather than all. What follows are three ways civic engagement can be conducted in a positive and inclusive manner that benefits all community members on a local level.

Prioritize Transparency

A transparent government makes it easy for community members to access public meetings in person or through online forums. Minutes, agendas, and other public information is available at all times on a well-run and managed government website. Providing open communication allows citizens to gain trust in their government and provides them with resources to understand an issue. At the same time, offering community members the opportunity to share their concerns and priorities via public forums with community comment periods and public surveys are another means of increasing transparency and improving civic engagement.

Develop Trust

Public leaders may feel anxious when advised to open the doors to public comment. Leaders and experts may worry that community members do not have the knowledge required to make broad-based decisions or understand the more minor details of a law or a project. Sharing information, offering educational opportunities, and supporting grassroots civic education can help develop trust on both sides of the community/system divide. When all stakeholders share the same resources and tools, the stage is set for successful collaboration and trust.

Improve Collaboration and Community Relations

Historically marginalized community members may be reluctant or even resistant to collaborate with local government entities. For too long, local governments have not provided opportunities for engagement. Yet, the collaboration between local government and grassroots organizations is often the surest way to solve local problems and secure civic investment in future projects.

Offering opportunities for civic engagement by creating transparency, providing resources for knowledge, and opening up local government projects, councils, and committees to community members is a recipe for successful civic engagement.