Rethinking Public Engagement Summit

This virtual summit is part of GFOA's Rethinking Budgeting initiative.

November 7-10, 2022 | 10+ Sessions | 9 CPE Credits

About the Summit

The budget is the most important policy document a local government produces. It has been recognized for decades that local governments should do better at meaningfully engaging citizens in the budget process. In recent years, though, new forces suggest local governments need to consider public engagement in a new light. These forces include distrust of experts, loss of faith in institutions, and the politics of cynicism.

This summit brings together academics, researchers and other thought leaders in public administration and engagement, civic technology experts, and local government practitioners to finally rethink public engagement.

Summit Schedule

November 7

This 50-minute session will introduce the four forces that call for Rethinking Public Engagement. They include:

·(Re)Establish legitimacy of local government as an institution.

·Align public expectations with what government can realistically accomplish.

·Get Feedback from a Fractured Public

·Provide an alternative to the politics of cynicism

Time: 1:00-1:50 p.m. (Eastern)

Speakers:

Shayne Kavanagh, Senior Research Manager, GFOA

Valerie Lemmie, Director of Exploratory Research, Kettering Foundation

Martín Carcasson, Professor, Center for Public Deliberation and Communication Studies, Colorado State University

Many of the challenges that most inspire the passion of citizens are complex problems. Complex problems pose a challenge to public engagement. Because they defy easy answers, they contribute to a sense of cynicism about what collective action, through government, can achieve.

This session, will examine how local government can help the public engage with complexity by recognizing the nuances of problems, moving past polarizing framings of issues, and improving how they work together to address shared problems.

Time: 2:00-2:30 p.m. (Eastern)

Speakers:

Matt Prewitt, President, RadicalxChange Foundation

The “information tsunami” that buffets our society challenges our ability to make sense of the world around us. The mechanisms for expressing and gathering opinions have exploded, but our ability to make sense of them and create mutual understanding have significantly lagged.

Public engagement supports government in creating a space for all voices to be heard, and through deliberation, identify opportunities to have the difficult conversations needed to address community issues and build common ground upon which to act.

This session will review how local governments can move along a progression that starts with gathering data from public input; which then turns that data into information and knowledge about the issues that most impact the community; and, finally, arrives at a deeper understanding and wisdom of how to collaborate and co-create solutions to those issues.

Time: 3:00-3:30 p.m. (Eastern)

Speakers:

Citizens have rights but also responsibilities to uphold a democratic government that guarantees those rights. In recent years, there has been more emphasis on individual rights and less on the collective responsibility to maintain the system that guarantees those rights. This can result in people placing demands on the local government without considering the need to address the issues the community faces.

This session will examine how local government can reinvigorate the sense of the responsibility citizens have under a democratic system of governance and find balance between rights and responsibilities. This means going from asking citizens “what do you want?” to asking “what should we do together, the government and citizens?”

Time: 4:00-4:30 p.m. (Eastern)

Speakers:

Scott Warren, Visiting Fellow, SNF Agora Institute, Johns Hopkins University, and German Marshall Fund

Wendy Willis, Executive Director, Kitchen Table Democracy; Director of Civic Engagement, National Policy Consensus Center, Portland State University

November 8

Bad actors don’t play by the rules of democratic discourse. They disrupt public engagement, eschew compromise, and generally impede productive conversation.  However, not all bad actors are the same.

This session will differentiate between types of bad actors. This typology will be used to show us strategies that can be employed to positively engage with bad actors or, at least, contain the damage they can do and preserve the quality of the engagement for other participants.

Time: 1:00-1:30 p.m. (Eastern)

Speakers:

Valerie Lemmie, Director of Exploratory Research, Kettering Foundation

Martín Carcasson, Professor, Center for Public Deliberation and Communication Studies, Colorado State University

High quality democratic decisions depend on high quality democratic institutions. Institutions ensure that the capacity for public engagement is on-going. But what are the capacities local governments need? And who should provide those capabilities?

This session will explore the skills, processes, and technologies that local governments need. It will also examine options to get them, including staffing, contracting, community co-producing and more.

Time: 2:00-2:30 p.m. (Eastern)

Speakers:

Bryna Helfer, Assistant County Manager, Director of Communications and Public Engagement, Arlington County, Virginia

Matt Leighninger, Head of Democracy Innovation, National Conference on Citizenship

The politics of cynicism results when complex problems meet with a delegitimized government and a public fractured into competing groups. The politics of cynicism rejects compromise as tantamount to capitulation, making it difficult to reconcile or transcend competing interests. Local governments can at least partially offset the politics of cynicism by fostering a politics of co-creation. Co-creation promotes common understanding and jointly working towards solutions.

This session will discuss how public engagement can be designed to promote common understanding and jointly work towards solutions. We will cover topics such as how to recognize the best opportunities for co-creation and techniques for co-creation.

Time: 3:00-3:30 p.m. (Eastern)

Speakers:

Lauren Kirk, Chief Innovation Officer with the City of Jackson, Tennessee

Christian A. Lopez, Civic Empowerment Coordinator, City of El Paso, Texas

Nikola Pavelić, Senior Advisor, Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation, John Hopkins University

Additional Materials: Download

Public officials stand to gain a lot from high quality public engagement, but it won’t go far if officials are not supportive of it. Some officials have concerns with public engagement that prevent them from embracing it.

This session will identify common concerns that public officials have with public engagement and how it can be designed to address those concerns.

Time: 4:00-4:30 p.m. (Eastern)

Speakers:

Doug Linkhart, President, National Civic League

Mayor Patti Garrett, Mayor, City of Decatur, Georgia

November 9

Skepticism of expertise is widespread, meaning that public is less likely to defer to expertise of local government officials. Instead, they bring their own research to public meetings and elevate lived experience over expert opinion. Public engagement must be designed accordingly.

This session will explore how public engagement can bring together the public and experts in a way that gets the most from the different perspectives each bring. We will explore how to distinguish between the issues that are best suited for the public or for experts and how to design public engagement accordingly.

Time: 1:00-1:30 p.m. (Eastern)

Speakers:

Nicole Hewitt-Cabral, Director of Public Engagement, Public Agenda

The public has more things competing for their attention than ever before. Local government has to compete for attention in order for people to engage. Fortunately, much has been learned in recent years about how to make things fun!

This session will explore how the science of games and process design can be applied to public engagement, see how it has been applied in practice, and discuss possible drawbacks.

Time: 2:00-2:30 p.m. (Eastern)

Speakers:

Eric Gordon, Professor, Emerson College

Dionne Hines, AICP, Assistant to the County Manager, Durham, North Carolina

Liz Joyner, Founder and CEO, The Village Square

Today’s information environment allows people to define their own reality. Bad actors complicate this through pollution of the information environment with mis- or disinformation. Yet some common understanding of the issues the community faces is necessary for productive discussion.

This session will discuss how to navigate a fraught information environment and methods to help participants build a shared understanding of complex issues.

Time: 3:00-3:30 p.m. (Eastern)

Speakers:

Lunda Asmani, Chief Financial Officer, Norwalk Public Schools, Connecticut

Tom Bryer, Professor, University of Central Florida

Dr. Alexandra Estrella, Superintendent, Norwalk Public Schools, Connecticut

Cameron Hickey, Project Director, Algorithmic Transparency, National Conference on Citizenship

November 10 (Technology Sessions)

Information technology is taking on a larger and larger role in lives. This part of the summit will examine how technology could help (or hurt) local government’s abilities to engage the public in a democratic discourse, particularly around issues germane to planning and budgeting.

Note: This session will contain the mini sessions. See sessions and speakers on the drop downs below.

Time: 12:00-1:45 p.m. (Eastern)

When it comes to engaging the public on the budget the goal should be that by the time residents are done they should think to themselves, “this is hard.” Successful engagement puts residents in the shoes of decision makers and lets them weigh tough tradeoffs that take costs and available resources into account. This presentation will cover success stories that focus on the three C’s of budget engagement: context, consequences and constraints.

Time: TBD

Speakers:

Chris Adams, President, Balancing Act

Emerging technologies for citizen participation in local government policy- and decision-making have been limited to two primary forms of engagement: public projects through workshops or charrettes, and in deliberations of legislative bodies, i.e., council meetings. In today’s digital society, technology platforms can enable a 24/7/365 solution for resident input and feedback in all areas of policies and decisions. The key is using technology and culture change to decentralize engagement practices and applying it throughout the entire institution, including to outdated and ineffective conventional forms of resident participation. Governments’ growing reliance on multi-channel communications using social media casts a wide net that neither reaches the intended audience or provides pathways for effective input and feedback. And continued use of and reliance on conventional methods to involve residents such as boards, commissions and task forces is limited, exclusive and outdated. The potential for local governments to harness a collective body of public knowledge through meaningful, structured collaboration is here. Enabling greater public input solicits more knowledge and ideas for improving decision making and trust.

Time: TBD

Speakers:

November 10 (Final Session)

We will have been gathering feedback throughout the week and our last session will synthesize and share what we heard from participants. We will also have opportunities for participants to discuss the biggest themes from the feedback. We will conclude with closing remarks on the intersection of technology and public engagement.

Time: 4:00-4:50 p.m. (Eastern)

Speakers:

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