Citizen Participation

More than soliciting citizen feedback, citizen participation in government means encouraging citizens to play active roles in establishing priorities and evaluating performance; which can help governments to improve responsiveness, enhance decision-making, and facilitate increased public confidence and support.  Involving citizens in performance measurement can be an effective means for facilitating this type of participation.

Recent research [1] has also shown that citizens tend to evaluate government performance differently than governmental staff.  They prefer less technical measures and do not differentiate among organizational structures.  As a result, there is often a need to have measures that specifically address the needs of government managers and measures that address the needs of citizens.  Citizens can play an important role in developing these “citizen-based performance measures”

Other participation mechanisms which tend to be more common include: community/neighborhood or town hall meetings, public hearings, citizen forums, citizen advisory groups, community outreaches, individual citizen representation, citizen surveys, focus groups, internet, and email.  Citizens may take part in various public service functions, such as goal setting, policy or decision making, implementation, and evaluation.  

Through these activities, citizens become incorporated as meaningful stakeholders and help communities to clarify their priorities and manage limited resources.  Citizen participation, because it helps state and local governments identify which services are most valued by the community and which are most problematic, is an essential element in the process of developing performance measures that are meaningful, relevant, and understandable to government and its citizens.

Example:  Austin, TX

The City of Austin promotes citizen participation by making performance measurement information publicly available on its Web site.  The Performance Measures Database is searchable by the public and includes information on performance measures by overall department, department programs, or specific department activity, and historical information, current year budgeted targets, as well as current year actual results.  Providing performance data to citizens allows more informed discussion between citizens and the government and encourages citizens to ask questions and make suggestions related to what should be measured.  

Example:  Des Moines, IA and the Citizen Initiated Performance Assessment (CIPA)

In 2000, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation provided funding for the City’s Citizen Initiated Performance Assessment (CIPA) Project, a collaborative initiative between city leaders and Des Moines Neighbors, an umbrella organization of all organized neighborhoods in Des Moines.  The premise of CIPA is that the citizens of Des Moines identify the areas of city service that are important to them and thereby provide the City with a tool to measure its success in meeting their expectations.  By 2004, the city had produced the CIPA report, listing those performance measures identified as most important to Des Moines’ residents.

Example:  Bellevue, WA

The City of Bellevue encourages and initiates citizen participation with its biennial budget survey, annual performance survey, public hearings, and through the citizen forum.  The biennial budget survey is conducted every two years to learn about resident budget priorities, the importance and level of satisfaction with city services, and the value residents feel they get for their tax dollars.  In addition, the city conducts an annual performance survey to assess how residents view public services and overall governmental performance.  Within the city’s annual performance report is a citizen-based collection of performance measures and community indicators called "Bellevue Vital Signs" that provide citizens with a sense of the city's overall health.  The “vital signs” allow the city to view performance measures through the eyes of its residents.  The city feels that “if performance measures are meant as a way for citizens to evaluate city government performance, then their effectiveness can only be judged by citizens.” 

The city has also sought to create increased visibility and availability to the public by operating “City Hall at the Mall,” which are branch city halls located at two of Bellevue’s busiest shopping malls.  Visitors to the mall can pay utility bills, get information about city programs, and make complaints or suggestions.  The city states that the goals of these branches will be to help improve communication, reach the uninvolved, build neighborhood rapport, publicize underutilized city programs, and provide superior customer service to the city’s residents.


 [1] Berman, Barbara Cohn.  Listening to the Public.  The Fund for the City of New York, New York.  2005