Something’s gone awry with the public meetings that have long anchored the ways local governments engage residents in decision making. Any leader who’s seen only a handful of people turn up for meetings—or worse, seen one of those forums turn into a shouting match—knows this first hand. So does anybody who’s attended a public hearing to speak their mind, only to be limited to 90 seconds at the end of an hours-long agenda.
A recent article in Vice summed it up this way: “The community feedback process is an inconvenient annoyance that brings out the worst in people. It is also at the heart of why U.S. cities can’t build new housing or transportation.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. And, in fact, civic engagement can work much better for everybody. That’s the premise of a new guide to civic engagement published this month by the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative housed at the Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University. Tailored specifically to city leaders, the guide unites research with practice to provide concrete tools for engaging residents in problem solving.
Bloomberg Cities spoke with three of the guide’s authors—Harvard’s Hollie Russon Gilman, Jorrit de Jong, and Archon Fung—for more of their insights about the state of civic engagement and how city leaders can take it to the next level.