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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.