The July August issue of the Citizens League’s monthly newsletter, MN Journal has an article by evaluator Bill Johnston titled The final analysis: What MAP 150 taught us about citizen involvement and engagement (p. 7). It includes this startling statement: "Dialogue is more important to citizen perceptions of authentic involvement than the effect on outcomes." He explains why… and I’ve excerpted some other interesting findings. (continued)
One hypothesis about citizen involvement processes is that citizens view processes as “authentic” if the processes results in policies that citizens favor. This turned out not to be true. The most critical element citizens used to evaluate the authenticity of their involvement in MAP 150 projects was the quality of the dialogue with public officials. The quality of the dialogue was more important than the eventual result.
To help them determine whether they are on the right track, process developers can ask these questions.
Of citizens: What is the quality of dialogue? Are public officials interacting with you in a way that indicates they understand what you are saying and want to learn more?
Of public officials: Do you think the citizens you are working with are representative of all of the citizens you serve? Do they seem fixed on meeting their own needs or are they flexible and growing in their understanding of comprehensive solutions?
Citizen involvement leads to defining issues differently.
When citizens are more involved in policy development, issues are defined differently than when citizens are left out of the process.
Some public officials resist citizen involvement and there are reasons for their resistance.
The literature describes three reasons that public officials resist citizen involvement:
- prior experience with sub-populations of citizens who care only about a particular policy outcome
- a natural resistance to erosion of authority, and
- the administrative burden of citizen-involvement processes.