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Testing the Waters: California’s Local Officials Experiment with New Ways to Engage the Public

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What is the state of public participation in local government decision making in California? What opportunities do Californians have to engage with public issues?

Where, other than at the ballot box, do elected officials hear from the residents they represent? What stands in the way of more productive dialogues between local officials—both elected and non-elected—and the residents they serve.

What is the state of public participation in local government decision making in California? What opportunities do Californians have to engage with public issues? Where, other than at the ballot box, do elected officials hear from the residents they represent? What stands in the way of more productive dialogues between local officials—both elected and non-elected—and the residents they serve?

Local public officials’ perspectives

To provide some answers to these questions, the Institute for Local Government and the Davenport Institute partnered with the research team at Public Agenda on a research study that sought the opinions of more than 900 local officials and 500 leaders of civic and community-based organizations in California. We asked these local officials and civic leaders about their efforts to engage the public in decision making, their experiences with traditional public hearings at council and commission meetings and their interests and attitudes toward newer forms of public engagement—especially methods that seek to give broad cross sections of the public the opportunity to deliberate over local issues and weigh the trade-offs of policy decisions that affect their lives.

This report—the first of two summarizing this research—presents the perspective of California’s public officials. It concludes with practical recommendations emerging from this study and its companion study on civic leaders’ perspectives for how to encourage productive relationships between local officials and the public and expand opportunities for broad sections of the public to meaningfully participate in local decision making.

Companion study: The views of civic leaders and their organizations

Results from our parallel study with leaders of California’s civic and community-based organizations are detailed in a separate report, “Beyond Business as Usual: Leaders of California’s Civic Organizations Seek New Ways to Engage the Public in Local Governance.”

See at right a PDF of the report, “Testing the Waters: California’s Local Officials Experiment with Ways to Engage the Public.” See both the executive summary and the report of the companion study below.

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