Perhaps most importantly, we have the technology to improve upon traditional public meetings. Although we’ve had access to reliable, widely adopted virtual town hall and video conferencing tools for a decade, too often local governments remain stuck in the old ways.
We must invest in digital engagement beyond social media. While social media is a critical vehicle for reaching residents and furthering the conversation, major platforms do not naturally foster collaboration and in fact thrive on confrontation. Effective digital engagement means bolstering a social media strategy with additional tools to collect and analyze public input, as well as empowering staff to help translate feedback into policy.
We cannot view digital engagement as a panacea for all public engagement, the way many leaders viewed social media early on.
This kind of stuff is really hard to change, because it tends to be written into city charters and laws, and backed by decades (or more) of organizational and civic inertia.
Nonetheless, it needs to change.
Local government is where we can have the most direct, most important impact on issues that affect our communities, but without major changes to how local government and citizens can engage, it is going to continue to be the same voices—i.e., the people who are able to show up to town meetings and write My Turn columns for the op-ed page—who have a say.