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3 ways that citizen engagement drives city development

3 ways that citizen engagement drives city development


Terms like ‘citizen engagement’ get used a lot because they are of growing importance to municipalities all over the world. Often, the term invites some positive notion of community spirit and pride but leaves many without a tangible definition of what citizen engagement is exactly and why it is so important.

Here you will find a helpful definition and three reasons why citizen engagement is vitally important.   

The simplest way to think about citizen engagement is in actionable terms. Citizens or community members are ‘engaged’ when they have a role in the dialog, decision-making, implementation, and general development of city affairs that affect them. This is important for the following reasons....

1.       It is one of the foundations of growth

Citizen engagement drives economic growth. According to an OECD study, greater social cohesion has significant economic benefits. Civic engagement leads to social cohesion, which leads to economic growth.

Social cohesion empowers and integrates people from different circumstances (such as students, working parents, and senior citizens). Groups that feel ignored gain more influence in their community. When people from different areas of the community create together, they find that the community is a common connection.  

This creates local networks. Which has a multiplier effect; residents and local citizens have a network for regular, on-going discussions. This allows people to express concerns and for developing solutions that work for the most amount of people, which is the foundation of sustainable economic growth. For more on this, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson have some interesting ideas.

2.     It enables trust between local governments and communities

Citizen engagement creates more committed community members. It increases support for the acceptance of development projects. Citizens who participate in decision-making processes or local development activities show significant commitment to help make the projects become a reality.

When residents participate they learn about municipal issues. This greater knowledge allows them to see multiple sides of the problem and to be connected to the problem. It is this shared responsibility and transparency that increases trust between community members and local government. At the end of the day, working together improves mutual understanding.

3.      It incorporates “forgotten” groups.

Citizen engagement opens dialogue to include the views and perspectives of underrepresented groups. Leading to more inclusive local governments. As seen in the previous points, this can strengthen public consensus for important local development plans and provide the support and the community ownership necessary for sustainability. Underlining the principle that drawing on the knowledge of a diverse group generates solutions that are practical, effective, and locally oriented. For more on this, read about how one city in Finland is engaging the youth.


No city or local government would assert that they enable amazing community or solve any problem by themselves. The truth of the matter is that dynamic and innovative municipalities have at their core strong and inclusive citizen engagement minded leaders that leverage the ideas and talents of all members of the community to ensure the common good and create lasting health and prosperity.


“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

― Jane Jacobs


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