New guide touts tech’s role in fostering civic engagement in nations’ cities

In an effort to move local government public engagement strategies from complaint-driven affairs to problem-solving sessions, the National League of Cities has produced an action guide to help elected officials create a framework for civility and democratic governance. The guide mentions strategies, from utilizing Web 2.0 technologies to promoting volunteerism as ways to allow citizens to connect with their governments in meaningful ways.

The action guide, “Beyond Civility: From Public Engagement to Problem Solving,” says that public debates are increasingly fraught with name calling, electioneering, posturing and worse, and that a new framework needs to help officials govern their communities in ways that are more participatory, deliberative, inclusive and collaborative.

“The public square should be a place where people can disagree,” wrote NLC executive director Donald Borut in the guide’s forward. “But it should also be a place where people unite to find common ground in deriving solutions to the nation’s concerns.”

To help officials reexamine their thoughts on civic engagement, the guide offers seven principles to “build a culture of inclusion and openness”:

  • Act as models of civility
  • Sharpen governing skills
  • Create opportunities for informed engagement
  • Support a culture of community involvement
  • Make the most of technology
  • Include everybody
  • Make it last

Among the principles, an emphasis was made to highlight the growing importance of engaging with citizens online. “In many respects, the Internet is the new town hall,” the guide says, “and city leaders can work with residents and others to make sure it delivers a form of dialogue and public engagement that can help solve real problems.”

As leading examples of cities who are making the most of technology, the guide cites Manor, Texas’ Manor Labs – a project powered by Spigit, a platform that uses game mechanics to encourage citizen participation in solving city issues through virtual currency.

Also cited is a project in Minneapolis, Minnesota, powered by the E-Democracy.org platform. The Minneapolis Issues Forum, boasts 1,350 registered participants who interact with other citizens, elected officials and community leaders over diverse and potentially contentious issues in civil and respectful ways.

“We hear it time and again that everyone wants a constructive dialogue that promotes a sense of shared responsibility and mutual accountability,” Mr. Borut said. “This means going beyond just re-examining the nation’s rhetoric, but also looking towards processes and activities that can be utilized to build stronger, healthier communities and a better nation.”

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