How to engage citizens in administrative decisions: new IBM Center for the Business of Government study

Openness and transparency are words we hear a lot these days associated with election administration and voting technology.

A critical question for election officials is how they can work to achieve effective citizen involvement in the election administration process, in issues ranging from the acquisition of new voting technology to better evaluating consumer satisfaction. It’s easy for critics to tell government officials they need to be more open and transparent in their actions, but it is another for government officials to figure out how best to implement policies that allow for open and transparent governmental decisionmaking.

Our friends at the IBM Center for the Business of Government have recently released yet another very helpful report, this one on exactly this question: “Public Deliberation: A Manager’s Guide to Citizen Engagment”, by Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer and Lars Hasselblad Torres. This report examines the challenges associated with engaging citizens in governmental decisionmaking, but then delves into a detailed discussion of both face-to-face and online citizen engagement approaches. This report is well worth the read, and we recommend it to government managers who are seeking to understand better ways to involve the public in the complex decisions they routinely make.

The only issue I had with this report concerns the analysis of online citizen engagement. Clearly this should be a powerful tool for government managers to use for citizen input, but there is one drawback to online citizen engagement that was not addressed well in the study — the technological hurdle of implementing online citizen engagement. This may be a challenge for many election administrators, who may not have the resources to develop online engagement forums, surveys, or other ways of using new technologies to get citizen input. Thus, I thought it would be useful at some point for this problem to be addressed: perhaps organizations or research groups with expertise and resources could develop simple-to-use and flexible applications that could be used by resource- and technology-strapped election officials for effective citizen engagement.