Promoting Citizen Participation

I took a break today from the EAC meeting to go over to the IBM Center for the Business of Government. Mike and I have wrote our report on interoperability in voter registration systems for them and they are a handy resource for reports on a variety of topics, including e-government, human capital management, collaboration, organizational transformation, and performance measurement. Although our report is the only one specifically on elections, the other reports often address similar organizational challenges and dilemmas.

For example, I was reading “Public Deliberation: A Manager’s Guide to Citizen Participation,” which is an obvious topic of interest to election officials and to academic organizations involved in election who want to consider various ways in which to involve the public in their work. The report presents a public involvement spectrum, which can run the gamut from more passive activities—such as providing information to citizens—to more active participation—such as empowering citizens by placing decision making authority in their hands. In between, organizations can also involve citizens through consultation, direct engagement, and collaboration.

The report is very valuable because it helps articulate how to think about citizen engagement in its various forms. It provides seven principles for deliberative engagement and identifies key barriers to agency engagement. The authors then provide some basic guidance for how to put citizen engagement into practice at four levels of involvement:

1. communication,
2. consultation,
3. engagement, and
4. collaboration.

The report also considers the various forums in which this can be done—including online participation activities—and closes with a set of formal recommendations about how to promote engagement. This includes considering six internal organizational reforms and seven external strategies for creating an infrastructure for engagement.