What is Public Engagement?
While there is not one definition of community engagement, it can be described a deliberative process through which citizens and stakeholders come together to engage in thoughtful discussion, express their points of view, and discover common ground to influence government decision making.
Community engagement is an expansion of democratic practice that goes beyond citizens’ voting in elections or showing up at meetings. It is most effective when strategies are planned, the process is authentic, citizens feel their input is valued, and the process results in informed decision making.
Legal Basis for Public Involvement
Public engagement is both the right and smart thing to do. In addition, federal and state Freedom of Information Acts, commonly called “sunshine laws,” mandate the process.
Why is Public Engagement Needed?
Community engagement is important for local governments because it involves citizens in good governance. It also increases legitimacy, efficiency, and accountability of decision making. There is no single best way to achieve engagement, or one technique or format that serves all engagement purposes. Public engagement methods may be conventional “high-touch” participatory processes (such as task forces, public meetings, workshops, and focus groups) that involve face-to-face interaction. High-tech approaches involve the dissemination of information through electronic networks, social media, and new technology. The most effective strategies integrate high-touch and high-tech approaches to sustain engagement, involve diverse stakeholders, and incorporate a wide range of activities and techniques.