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Reaching and Engaging the Public


Reaching and Engaging the Public

Effective partnerships are not just about the individual organizations involved in a particular project. Because efforts to improve the health of the built environment involve a multitude of individual choices and actions, informing and engaging the broader community is essential. In a broader sense, the community can be considered a member of the partnership.

Involving the public can help ensure that a local partnership’s actions appropriately reflect the views, concerns and priorities of key segments of the community. This in turn can lead to enhanced buy-in for local actions and a growing reservoir of community support as the partnership’s efforts take hold over time.

Local agencies can develop good information to educate the public about efforts to create healthier neighborhoods but may still find it difficult to reach people and encourage their participation. The traditional local agency decision-making process relies on the public to come forward at public hearings and other meetings to learn the details of development projects, budget proposals, policy and program changes and other agency decisions. Consequently the number of people actively involved in these decisions is usually a small minority of those who may be interested or affected.

Local officials can use a variety of approaches to inform and engage the community in efforts to create healthier neighborhoods. This guide uses “public engagement” as an overall term for a broad range of methods that local officials frequently employ to inform and involve the public. This broader term covers three important — and different — forms of engagement:

  1. Public information (or outreach) that informs residents and other members of the community about a public problem, issue or policy matter. This is typically one-way communication from local officials to the public. Examples include information provided on a county website, a presentation by municipal staff to a community group, or a city manager’s column in a local newspaper.
  2. Public consultation in which local officials ask for information and views from the public. The information generated consists of individual (rather than collective) opinions or recommendations, and those solicited have not been in discussion with one another to exchange views or further inform their thinking. Examples include a typical public hearing, telephone poll or mailed survey to residents.
  3. Public participation (or deliberation) that typically includes informed dialogue and/or deliberation among participants in the process. The result is a give and take in formulating group ideas and recommendations that are intended to inform the decision-making or other actions of local officials.

The particular form that public engagement takes depends on the nature of the decision facing the local agency and the resources available to foster public involvement.


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