In many places, official public meetings no longer work. By “official public meeting,” we mean meetings that are open to the public, where elected or appointed officials are present, and where policy decisions are being made (Model City Charter, 9th edition). Most of the official interactions between citizens and local governments, school systems, planning boards, and police departments are full of frustration, conflict, and mistrust.
Bad public meetings are damaging because they:
- Lower public trust and confidence in government, making it harder to implement policies and maintain financial stability.
- Increase frustration and stress for public officials and staff.
- Lead to delays and erratic decision-making, which further erodes trust and wastes public funds.
- Worsen inequities because meeting participants are not representative of the communities most affected by policies.
Better public meetings are possible, sustainable, and measurable.
- There are proven tools and practices that can ensure civil, productive dialogue among people who have different backgrounds and interests.
- These practices can be adopted as part of official public meetings, in full accordance with open meetings laws.
- Before and after public meetings, supplementary tools and practices can reach broader audiences: providing information, gathering input, and reporting on decisions.
- Public satisfaction with public meetings, and the state of local democracy generally, can be measured through digital tools.
We are working with three pilot communities across the US to advance collaborative, best practices in official public meetings. We plan to do this by building upon standard best practices in the democratic innovation field and by drawing upon local democratic assets and actors such as, city officials (elected/appointed), non-profit organizations and networks, government departments and their staff, anchor institutions (libraries, universities etc.), neighbourhood groups and engaged residents. By creating a localized strategy catered to context specific situations, those convening official public meetings will work with us to design an inclusive and collaborative formal process with the public.
Two forms of research will support this project:
- A Civic Engagement Scorecard, which is a quantitative “user-centered” data-gathering tool hosted on the Alchemer platform. It gives people an easy-to-use tag-based system to rate the quality of democracy and civic health in their official public meetings. It also offers various ways to visualize collated data.
- A Civic Infrastructure Scan to help local leaders understand the factors influencing civil discourse, including the recent history of engagement, skills and capacities present in the community, and the state of conversation online. Each scan consists of semi-structured qualitative interviews with key local leaders/organizations, media and social media analysis, and desk research on civic assets of their communities.
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- For further information please contact Nick Vlahos: firstname.lastname@example.org
International City/County Management Association, National League of Cities, Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation, Participedia, Kettering Foundation, Cities Fortifying Democracy, Democracy Cities.