The Changing Face of Community Engagement
Community engagement has meant many different things, to many different people, in many different eras, from the Athenians 2,500 years ago to our own cities today.
Throughout the world our contemporary city governments are trying to define what community engagement means for them and their stakeholders. Typically these definitions have been somewhat limited. Community engagement has often meant that city officials give residents three minutes at a public meeting to speak their mind, and that that constitutes citizen engagement. Unfortunately, such a model has significant flaws. In this day and age people find themselves too busy to participate in public meetings. This leaves many city residents too disengaged to appreciate the issues facing their community. The public meetings only attract the same small number of outspoken people, which means the voice of the wider public remains unknown. These situations of information congestion lead to city officials being frustrated and reluctant to incorporate public meeting feedback into the policy.
However, there is a growing trend to reinvent what community engagement can mean for our cities. City governments are trying new approaches, motivated by the prevalence of social media, the potential of online engagement tools, and the appreciation that public meetings are not very effective nor are they the only way to interact with the local community. These developments open the door for accessing communities in a new way and for maximizing the flow of information.
Many cities are partnering with startups like Future Dialog to develop online solutions that allow residents to participate and comment on issues that their cities face. These solutions give local governments the tools to encourage conversations on topics ranging from community visions and strategy development to more explicit issues like playground remodels and local parking.
Porvoo, a small city in southern Finland, has been using its Team Porvoo app to engage and solicit feedback from residents on issues such as smart mobility, local car parking, and how to improve the city’s attractiveness. The Team Porvoo app has been widely successful, collecting tens of thousands of responses from residents.
For many cities, new online applications and solutions offer an easy and flexible way to explore what community engagement can mean for them. It puts the tools in their own hands to design and create solutions that can meet their own specific context and goals.
If you found this interesting check out the Porvoo case study here and share with a friend!