What I’m watching: Bon Appétit’s “Gourmet Makes” series, where pastry chef (and Instagram darling) Claire Saffitz re-engineers our favorite junk foods into high-end, handmade creations. Claire’s latest foe: Totino’s Pizza Rolls.
What I’m reading: “The Worst Hard Time,” Timothy Egan’s National Book Award-winning nonfiction account of life and death during the Dust Bowl — and a telling look at how Americans adapted to ecological calamity.
A decade born during the uncertainty of the Great Recession is departing with a roar.
What started amid belt tightening, pay freezes and economic stimulus yielded over 10 rollicking years to a national conversation about boomtowns and income inequality by decade’s end. However, despite a fresh start and a futuristic-sounding name, 2020 is likely to present many of the same challenges as the 2010s.
The previous decade, for better and for worse, forced governments of all sizes to get creative with revenue, rethink hiring and labor practices to adjust to demographic shifts, and in the face of breakneck technological advances, change the way residents receive services.
If you start the Parks & Recreation episode “One Last Ride” at exactly 11:17:43 on December 31st, you’ll hear Leslie Knope say “I’m ready”, just as the clock strikes midnight.
Enter the decade the right way. pic.twitter.com/3Ka1Mx5DCb
— out of context parks and rec (@nocontextpawnee) December 29, 2019
In local government during the last 10 years, we witnessed the depth of mismanagement — a financial scandal in Bell, CA, and the public health tragedy in Flint, MI, come to mind — as well as the height of what’s possible — with the rise of path-breaking leaders in Chicago; Montgomery, AL; and Tucson, AZ, and a renewed embrace of innovation and engagement at city halls nationwide.
While the decennial recaps and best-of lists focus on national government, a decade’s worth of churn also reshaped public service at the local level. So, in the spirit of the season, I offer five themes that transformed local government in the 2010s — and set the foundation for the decade ahead.
Engaged residents expect government accountability
As the layer of government closest to the people, accountability is often more tangible at the local and regional level.
In the last 10 years, new social movements, including Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, prompted local governments to start addressing long-overdue issues about racial discrimination and income inequality.
The phenomenon of First Amendment audits also led public agencies to rethink how front-line employees engage with community members and adapt to the scrutiny of a national or global audience.
What I coulda woulda shoulda done differently when we had a “First Amendment Audit,” while also using gifs exclusively from Mean Girls.
— Jennifer Casey (@JenWCasey) November 19, 2019
Now, a single retweet or a fabricated news article can drive millions to your digital doorstep within seconds. Expect the attention to intensify further in the years ahead.
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) January 1, 2017
A lifetime ago, in early 2010s, social media still felt like a panacea to cure decades of apathy toward local government.
Now, after watching newsfeeds and timelines burn hot for years on end, and seeing followers leave due to privacy concerns, social media is a place where many agencies tread cautiously. Though the medium poses challenges, local governments continue to use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, et al to educate, engage and, increasingly, entertain.
Local governments lead on climate change
The last decade felt at points like a long, unending wake-up call of record-breaking heat waves, hurricanes and wildfires.
— NOAA (@NOAA) August 15, 2019
As the federal government rolls back climate-centric regulations and recedes from the global stage on climate change leadership, local governments have picked up the mantle. Disappointed with inaction on key issues, voters have turned to city and local leaders for change.
— City of New York (@nycgov) August 28, 2019
With climate change impacts growing more severe and difficult to ignore, look for residents to turn to cities for solutions and cities, in turn, to ask for residents’ support to make big changes.
Trust in local government remains high — for now
In 2018, Gallup declared Americans more trusting of local than state (and federal) government, with 72% of respondents expressing a fair amount to a great deal of confidence in local government.
72% of U.S. adults say they have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in their local government, compared with 63% who say the same about their state government. https://t.co/DIiAhQW37x #GallupDaily pic.twitter.com/czDLIsXx1X
— GallupNews (@GallupNews) October 8, 2018
Though reassuring, increasing threats from misinformation and the continuing polarization of civic life place trust in local government in a precarious position as 2020 kicks off.
The decline of local journalism has left a disconcerting number of city halls and government organizations without reporters covering the nuts and bolts of bureaucracy or serving as watchdogs for the public.
While journalism remains vital to communities, shrinking newsrooms mean agencies must now act as their own storytellers. The role of agencies’ public information officers evolved to include more influence, as well as more expectations from elected leaders and community members.
“Combative relationships with media representatives (and with government agencies) should be an anomaly, not the norm. Both sides should be held accountable, but both sides should also understand that jobs are being performed and that should be respected.” https://t.co/dwVhcXzlyD pic.twitter.com/Dg12vaIPAl
— ELGL (@ELGL50) October 29, 2018
The role of government social media professional is now a bona fide position at many agencies, helping to feed the constant demand for content, real-time information and immediate customer service.
Technology transforms how government delivers services
Whether you blame or praise the private sector, innovations in retail and other customer-centric fields required local government rethink service delivery in the 2010s.
In many cities, Amazon Prime made near-instantaneous delivery a reality — and left many community members wondering why government could not do the same.
The pressure to provide Anything-as-a-Service (XaaS) is at the forefront for every aspect of government, not just information technology. And, of course, social media changed the way local government delivers services, too.
Changing demographics shift focus to equity
The ascent of millennials in the workforce dominated the decade.
— Pew Research Center (@pewresearch) December 30, 2019
As younger generations joined the conversation, local governments could no longer get by with merely paying lip service to advancing equity, diversity and inclusion, both within the organization and the broader community. In some cases, upholding local values put cities at loggerheads with the federal government.
As we work toward #BecomingProEquity, we will share updates on the work King County is doing alongside our partners to promote equity and social justice.
Take a look at our strategies, progress and the challenges we face. ➡️ https://t.co/PFFjwghuR1
— King County, WA (@KingCountyWA) September 7, 2018
In the public sector — no longer the province solely of middle-aged white men — local governments made strong efforts to increase diversity in city halls and create organizations more reflective of communities.
The generation (my generation) also poses unique challenges to civic engagement.
Changing demographics also led local governments to surf a silver tsunami of baby boomer retirements, and get more creative in recruiting and retaining millennials and, gulp, Generation Z.