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Beyond Business as Usual: Leaders of California’s Civic Organizations Seek New Ways to Engage the Public in Local Governance

The 68-page report, Beyond Business as Usual: Leaders of California’s Civic Organizations Seek New Ways to Engage the Public in Local Governance, was published 2013. The report was in partnership with Institute for Local Government and the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University. Below is an excerpt from the report and you can read the original report (or download the PDF version) from ILG’s site here.

From ILG…ILG_Beyond

What opportunities do Californians have to engage with public issues and influence decisions that affect their lives? What stands in the way of productive dialogues between local officials and the residents they serve? What are the possible ways to strengthen relations between local government and the publics they serve?

The perspectives of civic leaders and their organizations

To provide some answers to these questions, we conducted a research study that sought the opinions of more than 900 local officials and 500 leaders of civic and community-based organizations in California. We asked these local officials and civic leaders about their efforts to engage the public in decision making, their experiences with traditional public hearings at council and commission meetings and their interests and attitudes toward newer forms of public engagement—especially methods that seek to give broad cross sections of the public the opportunity to deliberate over local issues and weigh the trade-offs of policy decisions that affect their lives.

This report—the second of two summarizing this research—presents what we learned from surveying and interviewing leaders from civic and community-based organizations across California.

This report is divided into two parts. We first present the findings from our statewide survey of 462 leaders of civic and community-based organizations. These findings complement those from our research on California’s local officials’ attitudes, experiences and concerns regarding the state of public participation in local government decision making, experiences and concerns of local city and county officials regarding the state of public participation in local government decision making. The second part of this report zeros in on the views of leaders from 20 community-based organizations that work predominantly with traditionally disenfranchised communities, including low-income, ethnic minority and immigrant populations. Finally, we discuss a number of important practical recommendations that emerge from this research and its companion study on local officials.

Executive Summary

What opportunities do Californians have to engage with public issues and influence decisions that affect their lives?

What are ways to strengthen relations between communities and their local governments?

We asked leaders of California’s civic and community-based organizations about their views on the state of public participation in local governance. The following report explores what these civic leaders say is working, what’s not, and how public engagement can be improved. Traditional models for including the public in local decision making, these leaders say, fail to meet the needs of both residents and local officials. Most see significant value and potential in more inclusive and deliberative forms of engagement, and many agree local officials are making increasing efforts to include residents more meaningfully. Overall, this research suggests civic and community-based organizations are looking for newer and more effective ways to engage the public and may be ready for stronger collaborations with local government.

The report also includes concrete recommendations for local officials and their institutions, civic leaders and their organizations, and foundations and other funders. The recommendations can help improve public engagement in local governance throughout California and, we hope, beyond.

Read the full report on ILG’s site here

About the Institute for Local Government
ILG-LOGOThe Institute for Local Government is the nonprofit research education affiliate of the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties. Its mission is to promote good government at the local level with practical, impartial and easy-to-use resources for California communities. The Institute’s goal is to be the leading provider of information that enables local officials and their communities to make good decisions. Founded in 1955, the Institute has been serving local officials’ information needs for 55-plus years. Some of the highlights of that history are detailed in the story below. While respecting and honoring its past, the Institute is also intently focused on the present and future. In these difficult economic times, the need for the Institute’s materials for local officials is even greater.

Follow on Twitter: @InstLocGov.

About the Davenport InstituteDavenport_Institute
Since our founding as a multi-partisan and non-profit organization in 2005, The Davenport Institute (formerly Common Sense California) has worked to engage the citizens of this state in the policy decisions that affect our everyday lives. It is our firm belief that, in today’s world of easy access to information, and easy connectivity to others, California’s municipal and education leaders are seeking ways to involve the residents of their communities in the important issues they confront. Done legitimately, this new kind of leadership produces better, more creative policy solutions and better, more engaged citizens committed to the hard work of self-governance.

Follow on Twitter: @DavenportInst

Resource Link: www.ca-ilg.org/sites/main/files/file-attachments/beyondbusinessasusual_publicagenda_2013.pdf

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