National League of Cities looks at civic engagement in cities


A new report from the National League of Cities (NLC) released this week highlights effective community engagement efforts in 14 communities across the United States. The case studies—which focus closely on innovative work in Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Austin—show new pockets of civic energy emerging in different sectors. The report, Bright Spots in Community Engagement: Case Studies of U.S. Communities Creating Greater Civic Participation from the Bottom Up , was produced in partnership with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The report features the diverse forms of engagement that are gaining traction in communities across the country, including the use of open data, participatory budgeting with public funds, city-wide strategic planning, and community-based funding initiatives. Findings also revealed that sustained engagement translate into economic gains for communities.

This report follows another released last week from Pew and taken together, the two show that citizens engagement with their city governments at a higher level than state or local governments. The NLC report shows that at the city level, citizens are engaged through personal networks to solve problems and that is improving quality of life in localities. Indeed these networks are also solving one of the constant problems in political outreach – bringing in hard to reach populations.

Municipalities are using technology, social networking and also old fashioned person-to-person offline networks to bring in diverse stakeholders on local issues. While the report focuses in on urban areas, it seems clear that the trends carry forward at a smaller scale in small towns as seen in the response to the recent disaster in West, Texas.

“The examples showcased in this new report indicate that civic engagement is alive and well in cities and towns throughout the United States,” said NLC President Marie Lopez Rogers, mayor, Avondale, AZ. “From Detroit to Austin these success stories indicate that by creatively reaching out to untapped resources and using new engagement tactics, communities can become more inclusive and more innovative.”