No one knows as much as everyone.
That’s something that Stephen Hardy, Chief Community Builder at MindMixer, often cites when asked why community engagement efforts are vital to creating strong, empowered communities. It’s the belief that better answers to society’s issues, struggles and obstacles are more likely to be found in collaborative settings where minds can mix good ideas and turn them into great ones.
The term “engagement” is often associated with feel-good projects — sprucing up a park or planning a new festival. That’s nice, but engagement shouldn’t stop there. The most impactful engagement comes when communities come together to solve the really tough problems or issues.
Find Your Inner Rocky Balboa
What’s the thing people care about most about when it comes to connecting with their community? Think about it for a second…
I bet you said something along the lines of “how their tax dollars are spent” or “how much money they pay in taxes” or “the level of services they receive for what they pay in taxes.”
A lot of people believe they know better when it comes to how their tax dollars are spent. It’s an issue people care deeply about — because it is their money, after all — and yet, rarely are they involved in those decision-making discussions. In fact, a lot of people are cynical and jaded when it comes to the taxes they pay and where that money goes.
So do something about it. Punch cynicism in the face! (Not literally… it’s just a figure of speech.)
Power to the People
Ever heard of participatory budgeting? It’s the idea that the people paying the taxes get more of a say on how their taxes are spent.
Some communities in the Kansas City area are using the idea of participatory budgeting as a way to educate the public on their budgets, and also as an avenue to gauge citizen priorities when it comes to community projects. Rather than focusing solely on “the number that tells how much property tax will go up next year,” as the article states, citizens are actually brought into the conversation at the starting point. And who knows, perhaps they might find a way to ease that increase.
No one knows as much as everyone, right?
As the linked article mentions, more communities are exploring ways to drive this participation and engagement online. If 100 people can make a budget planning meeting at a specific time on a specific date at a specific place, how many more could open up a web browser and participate from their computer or mobile device whenever they feel like it?
When San Mateo County, Calif., had a Measure A sales tax to spend, they took to the Internet to ask its citizens where that money should go (Read more about the process here). When citizens know how much something costs, at the least, it offers perspective. At the most, it offers buy-in. Great ideas are out there, and tapping into the brain trust of the community through online avenues can exponentially increase the quantity and quality of those ideas.
No one knows as much as everyone. All you need is a tool that makes it easy for everyone to be involved… and a good pair of boxing gloves.