After a year of extraordinary circumstances and challenges, city leaders are faced with a new question—how can they retain and build on the community partnerships and engagement initiatives borne out of necessity? To help answer that, we spoke with a few people working on the front lines of civic engagement: Karthick Ramakrishnan, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Riverside; Karen Kixmiller of the Department of Budget and Evaluation for the City of Greensboro, NC; Jeremy Kazanjian-Amory, Senior Manager of Engagement and Outreach for the Department of Youth Engagement & Employment in Boston, MA; and Fawaz Mass, Capital Project Manager for the City of Boston.

Here are a few key takeaways from our discussion: 

  • To ensure ongoing civic engagement, a fair redistricting process, and a successful 2030 census, stakeholders have to ensure that we don’t fall into the habit of a 10-year boom and bust cycle of engagement, in part by continuing to engage with the groups who formally or informally assisted in the census process. 
  • Civic engagement is most successful when cities meet their residents where they are—including having door-knockers work in their own neighborhoods, accounting for digital divides, and working closely with trusted community groups. 
  • Creating long-term, productive relationships with young people in the community requires trust that goes both ways. Young people are drawn to civic engagement when they are able to take meaningful action and have their ideas and experiences legitimized by their local government.