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Public Engagement in California: New research on the state of our democracy

What is the state of public participation in local government decision making in California? Two 2013 Public Agenda reports present the shared — and divergent — perspectives of public officials and the leaders of civic organizations on the issue.

The research indicates:

  • Public meetings often do not meet the needs of residents or local officials.
  • Large segments of the public are often missing from the decision-making process — especially low-income populations, immigrants and young people.
  • Local officials and civic leaders in California share concern for a disconnect between the public and local decision makers.
  • Both also desire greater public participation and stronger collaboration.

These and related findings, as well as recommendations for improving public engagement, can help local public officials, leaders of civic and community-based organizations, and funders investing in civic engagement or community development. The research and recommendations can inform the efforts of these and other parties involved with public engagement in or beyond California.

The authors found that local officials and civil leaders worry that current models for engaging the public — including traditional public hearings — do not meet the needs of officials or residents.  Both local officials and civic leaders are also interested in collaborating more frequently and exploring deliberative engagement methods that foster trust and better decisions.

They will need help, however, and the reports provide recommendations for local officials and civic leaders nationwide, as well as for funders interested in supporting more effective forms of public participation in governance.

The reports document and analyze the results of research with more than 1,400 individuals conducted by Public Agenda in partnership with the Institute for Local Government and Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at Pepperdine University. This study was funded by The James Irvine Foundation.

Find Out More

Download research highlights in a highly visual, printable infographic, as well as the two full reports:

  • “Testing the Waters” – perspectives from local officials
  • “Beyond Business as Usual” – civic leader points of view

Executive summaries are also available for both reports.

Take Action

One model for better public engagement that we’ve seen work in scores of communities across the country is the Community Conversation.

Community Conversations are carefully constructed dialogues that bring diverse members of the public together to work through an important and pressing public issue and explore possible solutions. Community Conversations are rooted in collaboration between government officials and civic leaders. These Conversations provide local officials and civic leaders an opportunity to engage a broad cross section of a community in productive, action-oriented deliberation.

Read more about Community Conversations, and contact us to talk about how the Community Conversation model can work for you.

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Add Your Voice

Join the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #demopart, or let us know what you think on our blog. We welcome your comments!

Download the Report on Civic Leaders…

Beyond Business as Usual (PDF)

This study suggests that California’s civic and community-based organizations are looking for newer and better ways to engage the public and may be ready for stronger collaborations with local government.

Download the Report on Local Public Officials…

Testing the Waters (PDF)

This study suggests that California’s local public officials may be ready for newer and better ways to engage the public and for stronger collaborations with community-based organizations.

– See more at: http://publicagenda.org/pages/public-engagement-in-california#sthash.gOqndgSc.dpuf

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