Governments around the world are struggling against the general tide of voter disengagement. Turnout at national and regional elections is generally awful, and it’s hard to avoid a sense that the public are increasingly turned off from politics at all levels.
So research into how to repair that relationship should be of interest to policy makers and all involved in any kind of public service. The research has been conducted by the Knight Foundation in conjunction with the National League of Cities, and they have provided a number of recommendations on how to engage citizens in the decision making process, in particular at local level.
The report focused attention on four main aspects of community engagement :
- the use of new tools and strategies
- the ability to reach a broad spectrum of people, including those not typically “engaged”
- Notable successes and outcomes
- Sustainable efforts to use a range of strategies
It’s particularly interesting that the report highlights the importance of reaching large numbers of people, and in particular those that are often hard to reach. A number of projects used social media to better engage citizens in the decision making process.
Decatur, Georgia for instance used a range of social tools to reach out to citizens. Whilst a positive step, most of the outreach was involved in dissipating information rather than listening to the needs of citizens.
Slightly more promising is Kiva Detroit. Kiva, as I’m sure you’re aware, are a supplier of micro-loans. These loans typically help people in developing countries set-up a business, but Kiva Detroit is applying the same principle in the developed world. Kiva Detroit is the first Kiva City.
With Kiva City, credit unions or other financial institutions partner at a local level to facilitate the loans, while community groups and civic leaders build awareness among small business owners and refer them to the program.
Overall I think the report highlights some nice examples of what can be achieved, whilst at the same time underlining what else can be done. You can see a summary of their findings in the slides below.