New research on the state of public engagement in California studied the perspectives of more than 900 elected and non-elected public officials.
This report explores the attitudes of California’s local officials toward public participation in local governance. These officials believe that the current models for including the public in local decision making fail to meet the needs of both residents and local officials. Most local officials seek broad-based participation from the public and want to hear more about approaches that have worked elsewhere. Many are already experimenting with more inclusive and deliberative forms of engagement. Overall, this study suggests California’s local officials may be ready for newer and more effective ways to engage the public and for stronger collaborations with community-based organizations.
The report also includes concrete recommendations for local officials and their institutions, civic leaders and their organizations, and foundations and other funders. The recommendations can help improve public engagement in local governance throughout California and, we hope, beyond.
Data for this research was collected through a statewide, representative survey of 900 local officials, conducted between July 10 and August 23, 2012, and through additional focus groups and individual interviews with local officials across the state. The study included both elected and non-elected officials. The study found the following to be true.
Local officials perceive the public as largely disengaged, despite many opportunities for participation.
Local officials see shortcomings in traditional public engagement approaches.
Among local officials, there is widespread interest in better ways to engage the public.
There is a growing awareness of deliberative public engagement processes among local officials.
Local officials differ in their views on the benefits and costs of deliberative public engagement processes.
Local officials are confident in their capacity to implement a deliberative engagement process.
Local officials use online media and web-based engagement hesitantly.
Local officials report somewhat limited collaborations with community-based organizations.
In rural communities, local officials report less public participation experience and fewer resources.
County officials indicate somewhat more experience with deliberative engagement approaches than city officials.