One positive outcome of the current political discourse at the national level is that many citizens and leaders are looking for a different approach than partisan bickering. Cities in particular are experimenting with avoiding partisan divides through more dialogue based approaches. Recently ICMA asked administrators to predict what local government would look like in 2020. Those predictions included several that are aligned with the emergence and growth of ongoing dialogue and collaboration between government and citizens. These included:
- Resident engagement will become the norm.
- Quality of life and a sense of place will be important to residents.
- Teamwork and consensus building will be essential skills.
- Working effectively with diverse and aging populations also will be a major skill.
- Performance measurement, quality control, and benchmarking will be emphasized.
As we have noted in prior posts, building a more collaborative future takes commitment and learning new skills – both by citizens and those in government. It can be hard to discern when and where to start, and what tools are needed to have an effective dialogue. Efforts to just “get citizens together” often turn into what one recent meeting participant we met called a “primal scream fest”. He had attended a meeting called by a local official to allow citizens to “discuss their differences”. There was no preparation beforehand, no facilitator, and an “open mic” rather than small group dialogue. Every one “had their say” but little got accomplished and tensions increased. Such meetings are more likely to delay rather than enhance the use of effective dialogue in a community, although they are not uncommon. In our next series of posts we will be reviewing how you can assess your community’s readiness for dialogue, and choose the level and type that will help you move forward, towards a more collaborative future.