Why We Resist Civic Engagement and How to Fix It

ARTICLE | Oct 29, 2013

An angry resident approaches the podium and screams at the council about a rezoning issue on the agenda. Her anger is contagious, prompting another resident to shout from his seat. And then another. It’s going to be a long night.

Civic engagement, when done properly, rarely looks like this. ICMA’s Center for Management Strategies recently took a hard look at civic engagement, how it can benefit the community, and why so many local governments are still resistant to it. Cheryl Hilvert, the center’s director, invited Mike Huggins, principal of Public Collaboration Associates, to co-present this eye-opening webinar.

Hilvert and Huggins explained that the barriers to civic engagement exist on both sides. The public often thinks that local government officials:

  • Have better knowledge to make decisions and solve problems.
  • Have ignored us in the past.
  • Have already made up their minds what they want to do.
  • Will not be influenced by the views of the community.
  • Are selectively deaf and unscrupulous.

Meanwhile, local government officials often think that community members:

  • Cannot grasp complex issues.
  • Are easily influenced by the media.
  • Have views that are shaped by narrow interests.
  • Are mostly apathetic.
  • Don’t appreciate constraints of public processes.
  • Would rather blame than problem-solve.

[Source: Max Hardy, Twyfords Consulting ; Lyn Carson, 2007]

After reviewing the barriers, the audience learned how local government managers can move beyond them. To achieve true, meaningful engagement with its stakeholders, local governments must commit to core values about civic engagement, assess their organization and community, build internal commitment, and create a plan. The process involves leaving your comfort zone; but the results are worth it.

Get more information on citizen engagement and download the webinar

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