Before Citizen Engagement

image curtesy of opensource.com via flickr

image courtesy of opensource.com via flickr

The most effective governments are those that built for and with the citizens. This requires that the government be in tune with the needs and opinions of its citizens, but also that the citizens be well-informed and granted easy access to the decisions of their government. Citizen Engagement is more than a trend, it’s the modern means of keeping the citizenry and the the state in tune.

In early democracies, states were small enough to allow for direct democracy. One of the three branches of Ancient Athenian government was made entirely of citizens. The Assembly held the power to make decisions on the function of its government. When the United States was a younger nation, meetings were held in New England town halls for the citizens to get up and speak their mind before decisions were made. To attend was a choice, and to speak was not required, but in both of these examples citizens willingly participated.

The label of democracy or republic is less significant than the line of communication between the government and the people. For a government to run smoothly, voting cannot occur as frequently as decisions are made, and most modern governments are too large for all of their citizens to gather in a town hall. Creating a channel from decision makers to the citizens they represent allows for transparency and builds trust, and serves as a real-time measure of public opinion.

Transparency and trust are crucial to maintaining a strong government. It’s no surprise that the establishment of a free press tends to coincide with large jumps in functionality and innovation within governments’ history. A free press represents an engaged citizenry. These knowledgeable members of society have more realistic impressions of what their government can do for them. They are more inclined to lend their time, resources, and knowledge to their government.

Citizen Engagement is a necessary tool in government innovation. Engaged, citizens who see their government clearly are most able to make the best decisions regarding policy and process. If you’d like to find out more about how to develop a citizen engagement program for your agency or department, join us on September 30th for a complimentary webinar, register now.

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