In November, Cities of Service gathered city staff and AmeriCorps VISTA members from our Love Your Block and Guiding Opportunities programs for our academy in Dallas, Texas. They got to know one another and started to plan their projects — identifying stakeholders, creating timelines, working on their elevator pitches, and more. They also tried out some of our new Citizen Engagement Techniques.
The techniques are designed to help city leaders and staff thoughtfully engage their residents to uncover insights and ideas, analyze community input and data, and create better solutions.
“When you’re presented with a problem, the natural thing to do is to jump straight to solutions,” said Lionel Ward, Guiding Opportunities AmeriCorps VISTA member for St. Louis. “The insight for me was learning the steps you need to go through to get to solutions.”
Effectively engaging residents isn’t always simple, but it is essential to good governance and problem solving. Without listening to residents, city staff can’t thoroughly understand the experiences and expertise of residents. And without that understanding, they can’t design solutions that truly meet needs. The Citizen Engagement Techniques make engaging, listening, and understanding easier.
Each technique is intended to be part of a long-term engagement with local communities that addresses a public problem, which is why we provide a “Before You Begin” checklist of important steps to take before city staff meet with residents.
The exercises provided academy participants with an opportunity to practice the techniques and think about how they could use them in their own cities.
At the academy, we gave participants a scenario and asked them to walk through one of two exercises — How Might We or Card Sorting — which helped them generate potential solutions to the problem presented in the scenario.
“The exercise provided an opportunity to bring us together to brainstorm and learn,” said LaShawn Brooks, Director of Constituent Services for Gary, Indiana. “We will use the exercise in our Love Your Block grantee workshops.”
Other staff also said they would use these techniques in their cities, not only with residents but also internally with city staff.
Cities of Service has posted nine techniques with more on the way. This will give city staff several ways to engage residents throughout the problem-solving process. They can choose the techniques that work best for them based on the problem they are addressing and the communities they are working with.