Moving Toward Increased Public Engagement

This week we wanted to point your attention toward a recent report from the IBM Center for The Business of Government titled, An Open Government Implementation Model.  The report offers an “Open Government Implementation Model” to help government agencies better understand the stages that must be worked through to create an effective open government.  The report is illustrated with a number of examples and suggestions for how to move forward.  The four stages discussed are as follows:

  • Stage One: Increasing Data Transparency
  • Stage Two: Improving Open Participation
  • Stage Three: Enhancing Open Collaboration
  • Stage Four: Realizing Ubiquitous Engagement

In the first stage, the report suggests that you follow in the footsteps of federal and state governments in providing a portal like Data.gov.  This stage is largely self explanatory.  Provide high quality and high value data to your community! This means data that is accurate, easily understood,  and in a format that is usable for a variety of  data analysis programs.

The second stage emphasizes inviting input. This input can be gathered through public meetings or through more innovative web platforms like ManorLabs.  Although the public is providing input in this stage, it is not directly engaged in making decisions as citizens are still building collaborative skills.   You may want to refer back to our posts on “The Learning Curve” to review skills and information needed for effective collaboration.  We have reviewed engagement efforts where citizens were invited to make recommendations but not given sufficient information or understanding of context and their recommendations were then rejected by decision-makers as impractical and uninformed.  That type of sequence results more in cynicism than collaboration over the long term.

Collaboration is a focus of the third stage.  It takes a great deal of work to move from stage 2 to stage 3.   In addition to information and skills, navigating the gap between inviting input and active participation in a deliberative decision-making process requires  a culture of collaboration and a history of success.  You can refer back to our series on Structuring Engagement to learn more about working through past and existing conflict to encourage collaboration.

By the fourth and final stage, you will have built a cooperative and collaborative environment and be working toward the ideal vision of “open government” – the state in which departments, agencies, community members, and civic leaders all work seamlessly together to make decisions.  Achieving this reality requires dedicated, focused work and the integration of a variety of tools.

We can help you understand what level of engagement can work for your community.  You can reach us at info@buildingdialogue.com.  You might also take a look at our recent articles published in the Missouri Municipal Review to learn more about planning for dialogue.  The third article, Deciding on Dialogue Options(pdf), illustrates how a city manager and a consultant might work together through the stages of public engagement.  We look forward to talking with you.

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