Local governments engaging citizens

Just finished reading Lee Worden’s rundown of the Woods Hole workshop and interestingly I dreamt last night of a group using workshop processes for engagement.  I also had a conversation with Walter last night that triggered the dilemma faced by many local governments and their inability to engaged the public.  What is it about these environments that make this so difficult?  Thinking on the collaborative knowledge workshop I wonder if it has something to do with unequal power arrangements or perhaps it is about lacking the models and capacity for engagement.  There is also the tricky problem of managing conflict or finding oneself in position of competing publics around directions and ideas.  This sort of problem can create political risks for those in local government.  I wonder if this is part of the problem.

The other part of the problem may a solution-oriented mindset the precludes individuals from seeking out new information or engaging with others as a means to seek out new information.  The pressure to perform and realize concrete products may also be at the crux of this issue.  I should talk to Rebecca M. A bit more and see what her thinking on this is.  This seems like the root of a new research project.  What are the strategies that local governments use to engage citizens in decision making process?  To what extend are these process truly participatory and to what extent do citizens feel engaged?  I could start by dong a comparison of all MA municipalities and look at some sort of activity that they all engage in.  Rebecca looked at economic development policies, but what are other policies?  I could focus on arts or creative economy policies?  I could look at local cultural councils or fire departments or police departments or some other municipal government office.  I already have a sense of the forms of municipal government and have some basic data as a result of the PILOT project.

What are the most likely ways in which municipal governments will want to engaged the community in decisions.  Planning and development seems like the most likely area, but then again I’d need to do some more research here and think about the kind of variation I’d be looking for.  This would be research project number three and I’d definitely need to start with some literature to see what is out there.