We are highlighting the work of the five groups that participated in the ELGL & UTA Challenge. Teams were tasked with developing community engagement solutions for one of the following areas: budget, infrastructure investment, planning and zoning, and emergency preparedness. (Full details of the challenge can be found here.)
Hear Ye, Hear Ye…Administrators and citizens; we have a problem with the budgeting process! Administrators and citizens are not on the same page. Public participation in the budgeting process is at an all-time low; however, citizens want to be engaged. Administrators indicate that the budgeting process is complex and further more they lack the time needed to train citizens about budgeting. They say that citizens lack the necessary education needed to understand budgeting. Citizens on their part say that administrators do not really want them to get involved; budget meetings are scheduled at odd hours and by the time the meeting is called, all budget decisions have been made. These two groups are at loggerheads – there is a lack of trust between citizens and administrators.
We recommend that cities utilize a liaison model where volunteers help bridge the gap between administrators and citizens. These volunteers will be able to engage administrators and citizens by educating citizens on the budgeting process. The volunteer liaison group would be made-up of different age groups; both young and old, use different communication media including face to face meetings, social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Smart Phone Apps, to name a few, as well as, engage citizens in their normal day to day routines. Engaging citizens at the citizens’ convenience will increase citizen participation in their local budget process. Cities can enhance the liaison relationship from what they learn from engaging citizens.
From our interviews with Administrators of local cities: small, medium, and large, we have concluded that both administrators and citizens have a distrust of decisions in regards to the local budgets. This distrust is manifested by a) a lack of a willingness to educate on the budgeting process and b) citizens do not want to make time to engage in the local budget process. The budget process is sacrificed for other priorities.
He Said; She Said
From the administrator’s point of view:
- Citizens react to budget items that they do not understand by seeking to eliminate them.
- The budgeting process is tedious and long. There is no time to teach citizens.
- Citizens do not show up to the meetings. They only show up for hot button issues.
- Switching from technical language to terminology understandable to the citizens can sometimes be difficult. Its math!!!
From the citizens’ point of view:
- The budget process is presented in a very complex manner.
- By the time their participation is sought, all numbers are in place.
- Lack of access to technology to participate in the budgeting process.
We recommend that cities utilize a liaison model where volunteers help bridge the gap between administrators and citizens. These volunteers will be able to engage administrators and citizens. The volunteers group would be made-up of different age groups; both young and old, use different communication media including face to face meetings, social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Smart Phone Apps, to name a few, as well as, engage citizens in their normal day to day routines. Engaging citizens at the citizens’ convenience will increase citizen participation in their local budget process.
Cities can enhance the liaison relationship from what they learn from engaging citizens.
The intention in writing this blog is to perhaps advance the understanding of citizen engagement efforts in local government by offering multi-dimensional platforms, such as volunteer liaisons and social media that will effectively increase citizen engagement directly. The value that social media adds to this process is that it can be accessed in a variety of settings during any time of the day. In addition, social media provide a direct link between administrators and citizens. The helping hand that volunteer liaisons provide is breaking down challenges and questions posed via social media. Thus social media lays the foundation for exactly pinpointing the questions and concerns of the citizens. In addition, the volunteer liaisons would consist of a diverse mix of citizens who have access to administrators and would be able to understand and communicate local budgets to citizens.
The End, This Is Not
Indeed the willingness to collaborate in a joint strategy would enhance the responsibility of the various stakeholders, perhaps providing a feeling of equality and partnership throughout the budget processes. It is based on that willingness for collaboration that the authors propose the Citizen Engagement Liaison Committee and the use of citizens as liaisons between budgeting officials and citizens at large to help foster a culture of dialogue that builds trust and increases communication between both parties.
This #CommunityEngagement #LocalGovSolution in the Budgeting Process was created by the student team,
Norcise L. Williams
A round of applause!
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