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Emerging Issues: Are We Ready For Government By the People? by Bill Barnes (Nations Cities Weekly)


Many city officials feel they and their community have been hurt by well-intended participatory processes gone badly awry. Once burned, twice shy. You can imagine that citizens feel the same way.

It is, however, not unusual that residents and city halls first meet each other in special deliberative sessions when there is a particularly troublesome issue that severely divides the local polity. Like the current budget crises. Strong emotions, forceful words and bad feelings frequently follow.

Taking a longer view, Matt Leighninger, executive director of the Deliberative Democracy Consortium and long-time NLC collaborator, observes that the foundation for dealing with really wicked issues must be laid way before an issue escalates. And, he adds wryly, why not build that foundation by doing excellent citizen involvement when the topic is more positive and less divisive — planning a park or envisioning a strategy for green jobs?

New NLC Report

A new NLC report, “Making Local Democracy Work,” adds information about the views of municipal officials to the on-going discourse about democracy. The government side of the citizen/government relationship is too often neglected, to the detriment of the whole discussion.

The NLC study surveyed elected and managerial municipal officials about public engagement. It defined public engagement as “proactive efforts to involve people in deliberating public issues and in helping to solve problems.” (See related story about the survey report in the October 4 issue of Nation’s Cities Weekly.) Read the rest of the article.

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