Civic Engagement

A growing disconnect between citizens and government – complicated by the challenges of financial strains, demographic changes, diminishing social capital, and increasing demands from citizens – has renewed the need for local leaders to revisit issues of democracy and governance. NLC is contributing to a national effort to strengthen democracy and governance at the local level by involving residents in government and public life and by focusing on developing an inclusive, collaborative, and effective relationship built on trust between citizens and government. Through these relationships, communities can work together to arrive at solutions to pressing problems.

    Bright Spots in Community Engagement: Case Studies of U.S. Communities Creating Greater Civic Participation from the Bottom Up
    Communities are experimenting with new ways to engage citizens in the decisions made by civic leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors, and are finding that success at making democracy work and sustaining healthy communities requires engaged individuals, organizations and institutions.  The National League of Cities, working with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, selected 14 communities to explore how their experiments with a variety of community engagement efforts are faring in a new report.

    Better City Plans Through More Public Engagement
    In the last year the cities of Philadelphia, El Paso, Texas and Norfolk, Virginia each embarked on significant efforts to reframe the built environment through updates to zoning guidelines.  Although each outcome will be unique and interesting in its own right, the unifying factor linking all three cities together is the aggressive drive to include residents as citizen planners.

    Social Media: The New Face of Local Government
    Social media is bringing a revolution to citizen's expectations in how they interact with their local government.  In a workshop held at the 2011 Congress of Cities & Exposition in Phoenix, city leaders learned some key strategies for determining when and how to use these multi-channelled formats effectively to enhance and expand their outreach and engagement with residents.  In addition, the legal issues of language, privacy and management of records were addressed with authentic scenarios.  View materials from this workshop's speakers below.

    Planning for Stronger Local Democracy (2011)
    As a culmination of NLC's work over the last decade responding to the challenges of governing democratically, NLC's democratic governance project has published Planning for Stronger Local Democracy: A Field Guide for Local Officials. This tool kit, made possible with support from the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, is designed to assist officials in strengthening local democracy by cultivating transparency and inclusivity with citizens and key allies with shared responsibilities and mutual accountability for addressing and solving problems.  

    City Examples in Civic Engagement
    As part of NLC's extensive work on democratic governance and civic engagement, we have assembled a collection of promising practices in cities across the country. These examples represent the variety of programs and partnerships that can be used to encourage citizens to become more engaged in their communities and provide them with the opportunities to do so.

    NLC's Corporate Partners Making a Footprint in Their Communities (2011)
    As municipal budgets continue to tighten, city officials are encouraging businesses and their employees to work with local governments and non-profits to strengthen and expand services in the community. NLC's Democratic Governance project interviewed several of NLC's Corporate Partners and invited them to share their corporate responsibility focuses and programs. In their interviews, Fred Wacker of the Home Depot Foundation, Kathryn Brown and Christopher Lloyd of Verizon Communications, Inc. and Christine Ortega of Southwest Airlines spoke of the commitment and compassion of their employees for the communities in which they live and work.

    Community Conversations: Citizens Determining Real Priorities Webinar (September 15, 2011)
    Given the grim economic forecasts, local officials are asking for buy-in from citizens to determine their funding priorities and "new normal expectations" for government services. A webinar produced by NLC's Democratic Governance project featured examples of local communities using deliberative processes and community conversations to determine budget priorities and other community initiatives. Watch a recording of the webinar.

    Beyond Civility: From Public Engagement to Problem Solving (2011)
    The national discussion on civility, borne out of the terrible events in Tucson, demonstrates that many believe the current overheated rhetoric is not working as a means to solve the nation's problems. This action guide assists city leaders in creating a framework democratic governance that encourages governing in a participatory, deliberative, inclusive and collaborative way.

    Local Practices in Public Engagement (2010)
    This brief presents local practices that public officials and their staffs are incorporating in their communities to govern in more participatory, deliberative, inclusive and collaborative ways.

    City Government Promoting Civic Responsibility through Volunteerism (2010)
    This brief illustrates the diversity of citizen volunteer programs and strategies that city officials are implementing to achieve city priorities and to strengthen and expand services.

    Making Local Democracy Work: Municipal Officials' Views About Public Engagement (2010)
    This report compiles information from a survey conducted in the summer of 2009 to municipal officials, both elected and managerial, to find out more about their views, attitudes, and local practices in public engagement.

    Civic Engagement and Recent Immigrant Communities (2010)
    This guide presents local officials with the first steps and directions for developing or re-establishing efforts toward integrating immigrants into civic life. It provides guidance for conducting meetings with small groups of local leaders that are representative of the many cultural and ethnic facets of the community. It includes suggested agendas, background materials, planning considerations, and successful formats for civic engagement.

    Research Brief on America's Cities: Municipal Officials' Views on Public Engagement: City Hall, the Public, the Media and Community Groups (2010)
    This research brief, based on the results of NLC's State of America's Cities survey, reports on municipal officials views related to participation in democratic decisionmaking, the public, the media and community groups.

    Authentic Youth Civic Engagement: A Guide for Municipal Leaders (2010)
    Published with support from the Surdna Foundation, this guide offers practical tools for promoting meaningful youth participation in local government. The guide is informed by a year-long process in which the YEF Institute synthesized the knowledge and expertise of more than 300 youth development experts, academics, municipal leaders, community organization partners and young adult and youth leaders from across the nation through a series of focus groups, surveys and interviews conducted in 2008 and 2009.

    Research Brief on America's Cities: Municipal Officials' Views on Public Engagement (2009)
    This Research Brief, based on the results of NLC's State of America's Cities survey, reports on municipal officials' views about public engagement and their efforts to involve the public in deliberating issues and helping to solve problems.

    Legislating for Results (2009)
    The National League of Cities, in collaboration with The Urban Institute, has developed a ten part educational series of materials and tools to help local elected officials obtain and use information about the results and outcomes of government services in helping their citizens.


    Additional Governance & Civic Engagement Resources