Municipalities have always engaged their communities in multiple ways—from sharing information to holding public meetings and officiating at events. As times have changed, so have needs and expectations.
Here are six municipal engagement trends to pay attention to in 2017:
1. Governments having to work harder to earn and keep trust.
This is true at all levels of government, and not just in Nova Scotia or even Canada. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports that trust in government is on the decline in many Western countries, and a 2016 “Trust Barometer” found that 63% of Canadians blame government for their problems. How to win back trust? The OECD advises that “open government policies that concentrate on citizen engagement and access to information” as well as “inclusive policy making” can go a long way.
Bottom line: It is more important than ever for Municipalities to engage citizens in a way that closes communication gaps and builds trust.
2. Engagement becoming more engaging.
Councillors have good reason to dread the town hall where the usual suspects dominate the floor and everyone leaves feeling more divided and a little bruised. There are lots of creative options for gathering input, holding a community conversation or inviting citizens to roll up their sleeves. Engage Nova Scotia is putting together a toolkit that will help you find the right option for the job.
Bottom line: You can design your public engagement session in a way that manages the risks and leaves people feeling energized, heard and included.
3. No longer enough to say, “They were invited.”
Do you find that the same few people are turning up for everything in your community? This can be a recipe for volunteer burnout, and it also means that many of the voices you need are being left out. Even if your invitation reaches underrepresented groups, it may not speak to them.
Bottom line: Ongoing, proactive outreach and relationship-building are needed to ensure that everyone is involved and decisions are going to stick.
4. Social media opening new channels.
Chances are, most of your citizens spend time on Facebook, Twitter, and/or their favourite websites. You can use these channels to keep people well informed about what’s going on in Council and around the community. Individual Councillors can also use social media to let their constituents know what they are doing on a regular basis. This will help ensure that social media channels are being lit up by a constant flow of useful and positive news.
Bottom line: Municipalities can use social media to ensure greater transparency, connection and trust.
5. Municipalities playing a bigger role through partnerships.
Councils and staff can feel that their mandate and budgets aren’t big enough to meet the expectation of citizens and achieve the kind of impact they want. They might feel frustrated at not being able to address the economic, social or demographic challenges that are critical to the future of their communities. In response, many Municipalities are engaging in new partnerships, whether with community or business groups, other levels of government, or regional coalitions.
Bottom line: Municipalities don’t always have to work alone; they can create or join a bigger table.
6. Engagement becoming a way of life.
Research is beginning to support what many of us already believed—that engaged communities are more resilient, enterprising and attractive to newcomers. Engagement can begin with community conversations and expand to include citizen-led working groups, networks and projects that support the local economy and the wellbeing of citizens.
Bottom line: A long-term commitment to citizen engagement will ensure that your community is vibrant and ready to deal with whatever challenges and opportunities come its way.
What trends are you seeing? We’d love to hear from you.