Connecting the Community

Communities that engage citizens are places people want to live.
Nancy Lemond, Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer, AARP | May 22, 2017

Editor’s Note: Public trust in government is at its lowest levels – less than 25 percent – since surveys on the topic were first conducted. Local leaders across the country are taking note. According to a recent Center for Digital Government (CDG) survey, civic engagement activities have increased by 56 percent in the last 5 years as governments employ new strategies to increase citizen involvement. Seventy-nine percent of local governments use social media, 40 percent leverage open data and 31 percent conduct virtual meetings to better engage citizens. The intent is to help residents better communicate with each other and with public officials to improve communities and strengthen confidence in government. It is an area where innovative strategies can bring about positive change and one which will be top of mind for mayors for years to come.

Connecting people to each other and to their government is a key attribute of a healthy community where people of all ages want to live. When public sector leaders engage their residents, these individuals are more likely to participate in the local government process and have a stake in giving back to and improving their neighborhoods.

Making sure that residents have an outlet – whether it be online or in person -- to voice their opinions on the issues that matter most to them alleviates frustration and ensures no one is left behind. Two-way dialogue between citizens and their government strengthens that relationship, and in turn, helps the community thrive.To boost civic engagement, it takes a concerted effort from local leaders to provide a platform for residents to voice their opinions and report progress on various issues and programs.

To engage residents of Fort Worth, Texas, Mayor Betsy Price invites them to join her on bike rides around town called “Rolling Town Halls.” The rides typically last 45 minutes and discussions range from implementing recycling programs to dealing with bird infestations.

In Indianapolis, Mayor Greg Ballard partnered with Angie’s List to create an online forum to help neighbors connect and support the local police in fighting crime. The secure “Band of Neighbors” network is tailored to the city’s 840 neighborhoods and only residents of a particular neighborhood can participate in that community’s forum. Similarly, law enforcement announcements are only posted to discussions of the affected area.

To keep his government accountable and encourage community involvement in public policy, Mayor Charlie Hales of Portland, Ore., created Portland’s Dashboard. The innovative website tracks the progress of initiatives by highlighting real-time data in charts, graphs and infographics that any resident can access. The dashboard creates a shared sense of accomplishment across all geographic and demographic boundaries.

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Discover how other mayors are using innovative strategies to improve civic engagement in their communities.