Everyone knows that there are numerous reasons to launch a citizen dialogue: it improves the municipal quality of life, it has the ability to source new ideas for improving legislation or regulations, it helps create sympathy and regain trust and support, but it also has another unique benefit to the organizations that decide to engage the voices of their citizenry: it is a chance to educate the public.
In 2012, the City of Huntsville launched a citizen engagement campaign that solicited public feedback on subjects such as park revitalization and improvements to the historic district. And when it later launched an 18-month comprehensive master urban planning initiative that would shape the future of Huntsville for decades to come, they knew that they had to involve the public yet again. But this time their outreach plan was comprehensive: surveys, online citizen engagement community, and what they called citizen academies.
Citizen Academies are offline planning meetings that addressed specific aspects of city planning. The events were free and open to the public and the first one had more than 400 attendees. The series was an ongoing occurrence that included expert speakers who could educate citizens, architects, and employees or anyone else who wanted to support the larger mission.
Some of the subjects were to help citizens understand what was and wasn’t possible within the parameters of the law, city ordinances, and otherwise, so that when suggestions were made in their online communities, the ideators could help to problem solve with all the information.
The other unintended benefit, however, is that when they saw certain suggestions resurface in their citizen engagement community time and again, they realized that these were subjects that they could also treat in citizen academy events. It became an opportunity to educate not just on their own agenda, but on the agenda set by the citizens.
To read the full City of Huntsville story, download the case study here.