Have You Ever Attended a City or Neighborhood Public Hearing? I didn’t think so.

The antiquated model of public feedback generates long lists of complaints from mostly old people and angry people. Are these really the “public voices” that should be defining what our cities and public policy looks like?

First off, let’s be clear that our local, state, and Federal governments are extremely accessible and should be commended for their efforts to engage the public, seeking real feedback and input on how best to move forward. However, these efforts often fall short in reality. In-person meetings at City Council chambers, attending a public hearing, or writing a letter are some of the most common ways to make your voice heard. But these things take a lot of time.

The reality is most of us are short on time already. To ask anyone to take hours out of their day to attend a public hearing is simply unreasonable. Sure, maybe if someone is proposing to build a giant concrete structure that will block the sun entirely from your recently purchased first-time home, you MIGHT be able to slip out of work and commute downtown, pay for parking, and deliver 3 minutes of comments. But realistically, you won’t – and neither would I.

Today we live in a fast-paced culture, with access to information at your fingertips. Social media allows us to view content and response quickly and constantly. Millenials are outspoken and opinionated, engaged and persuasive. But not when it comes to local government.

As stated by the Institute for Local Government in this article about social media engagement tools & techniques, “The marketplace of online public engagement is still in its early stages; however, many options for achieving desired goals already exist.” And this report by ASU’s Karen Mossberger states “Customization of information through web 2.0 features such as RSS feeds or social networks like Facebook or Twitter may lower information costs through sharing and alerts, and, like e-government in general, they provide convenient and round-the-clock access to information. Ultimately contributing to citizen knowledge and interest in public affairs. Government use of social networks and other online tools to discuss policy issues may be viewed as responsive and accessible because government interacts with citizens “where they are online,[and] how they prefer to be engaged”

This should be a no-brainer for governments. Open and transparent multi-directional conversations are scary, but relatively cost effective and efficient. A truly effective social media platform involves open and honest, active communication engaging and informing citizens. This should be a truly two way street, which is where governments fall short.

How many times have you been at a standstill with a friend or loved one, then when you are the first to open up, to trust, to be vulnerable, only then does the other person do the same? People don’t trust government or government officials. An active communication platform and clear communication are the first step toward engaging citizens. For a relatively small initial investment, governing officials can create a meaningful, lasting relationship with citizens.

So I plead with you – go down to City Hall and meet with your local representative to demand they initiate a social media effort. Kidding! Simply “like” this post and I will collect the appropriate data and pass it on.  Or better yet, drop a comment into the box below and our data system will automatically aggregate your response and send it on to the appropriate council staff member for review and implementation.

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