Technology is a powerful tool for public engagement. It can help cities and counties change the who, how, when and where of participation in local decision making. Yet it’s not a solution by itself. Whether they are oriented to the cutting edge or using more familiar tools, local officials who benefit most from technology are clear about their purposes, audiences and have staff in place to maintain it well.
There are significant benefits to looking at multiple methods to share and distribute information and obtain feedback. This “multichannel” approach uses a variety of methods to disseminate and share the project or program materials. This approach will enable agencies to reach members of the public that do not usually follow what is going on in local government.
A growing number of local agencies are experimenting with different kinds of technology to enhance their public meetings or workshops. Their goals may be to broaden participation, accelerate progress on decision making or create a “safe space” for feedback on contentious issues. Some are especially excited about online public participation software. These articles and tip sheets are intended to help local officials both select and implement these tools in a way that may help more fully achieve the goal of more inclusive participation.
A local government agency’s website is ”home base” for how it organizes the way it wants to involve residents in local decision-making. How transparent and accessible is information about public meetings? Can community members easily find the issues they care about and sign up for updates? Many agencies have the ability to improve the functionality of their website with the tools they have in hand now. Others may want to investigate new features or services. Use these articles and case studies to find out more.
Community members of all ages and backgrounds are increasing their use of social media tools as a way to connect to each other and the issues they care about. Not surprisingly, cities and counties are also increasing their use of these communications channels to reach residents. These articles and tip sheets can help local governments navigate the operational and policy issues that may come up while pursuing this approach to community outreach and engagement.
Open Source computing is changing the landscape of technology for local governments. Instead of relying solely on IT departments and large suppliers, some aspects of local government information are being opened up to interested community members to access and analyze the data — and even to help generate the data. Mobile applications are proliferating for a variety of purposes. Cities and counties are examining whether and how to shift their role to being a data collaborator and coordinator with different kinds of community partners.