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Consider Citizen Engagement Carefully

Citizen engagement is an important democratic value for local government and it helps align service levels with financial capacity by learning about citizens’ tax/service preferences.

Broad, open-ended citizen engagement may prove counterproductive when it slows down the recovery. Focused citizen engagement, however, could prove valuable. Identify areas where citizen input would be helpful and consider using nimble engagement mechanisms, such as focus groups, to obtain input. Set the stage for citizen engagement in the recovery process by giving them an appreciation of the hard choices that must be made. One way to do this is a budget “game” that challenges citizens to allocate a limited amount of resources amongst a portfolio of valued services. Here is a simple example of such a game from the City of Minneapolis

Below are some broad principles to consider when designing a citizen engagement mechanism during the recovery process. [1]

  • Frame perceptions. Take the lead in defining the situation and share information to keep people open to different possible remedies and avoid creating panic or a “bunker mentality.”
  • Structure the engagement activities. Clearly define the task the participants are being asked to address and, if possible, divide the task into smaller sub-tasks. Provide the participants with the space, material, and personnel support they need to do the job. Also provide clear deadlines and explain how the participants’ work fits into the larger decision-making structure and how the participants will be kept informed of the results of their work.  
  • Don’t dominate the process. Give the participants plenty of opportunity to contribute. Government officials should be present to signal their engagement, but should be careful not to dominate.  
  • Deal with politics. Recognize political forces such as interest groups and coalitions. Bring these forces into the engagement structure, but let them act as positive contributors rather than controllers. 
  • Accept and promote a model of shared governance. Make the commitment to use the results of citizen engagement in recovery planning. The future of the organization depends on the commitment and trust of its constituents.

Continue to Step 8. Long-Term Treatments

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[1]Zehava Rosenblatt, Kathryn S. Rogers, and Walter R. Nord, “Toward a Political Framework for Flexible Management of Decline,” Focused Issue: Organizational Decline and Adaptation: Theoretical Controversies, Organization Science, 4, no. 1 (February 1993): 76-91.