More than a job, public servants must maintain a steadfast commitment to service that requires creativity and dedication to engaging their residents. In the Sunshine State, we already know that many of our community members want to use their voices to shape their community’s future. Florida ranked fifteenth in the nation based on Voter Turnout per capita, with 71.66 percent of the voter-eligible population casting a presidential ballot in 2020. Proactive and intentional engagement can make all the difference in building trust between your local government and your community, along with spurring a more engaged community.
Oftentimes, clerks and city managers aren’t sure where to start when building this important engagement strategy, but I am happy to offer three secrets that can help grow community involvement; increase accessibility and community education initiatives, and center your community through volunteerism. Together, these three methods are key to effectively growing community involvement that will help your community thrive.
An important factor in engaging communities that is often overlooked is simply meeting people where they are at. Too often, many municipal governments intend to serve their community but unfortunately fail to navigate the key spaces where community insight can be gathered. Instead of putting the onus on residents to fit live, in-person events into their daily schedules, create strategies to virtually bring government to the people. An example of this might be utilizing live streaming software for meetings and events so community members can watch proceedings from home or on-demand. Additionally, having recordings of those meetings available afterward can provide the level of accessibility for residents to join the conversation and offer feedback at the convenience of their choosing. If residents can get involved from their couch, they’ll be likely to take a second glance at joining that city council meeting, knowing that they don’t have to get out of the house to participate. Additionally, with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities for virtual engagement and building community from one’s home are more important, common, and even expected than ever.
Another way to build community involvement is through utilizing the power of education. Not only is informing and educating residents important but so is offering collaborative educational opportunities. Build educational opportunities that answer residents’ questions about the way government functions inside of their community. For example, there has been much interest in Floridian communities across the state in criminal justice reform. It is a topic that is galvanizing residents to seek ways to get involved in local policy-making.
While the state legislature has begun writing bills to address such issues, municipal governments can educate their communities through hosting engaging events that speak to the topics of concern to the community. For example, a “Know Your Rights” event could garner turnout and new engagement from the community along with offering an opportunity to spur conversation for ways that residents can better inform and support one another. Additionally, with other such areas of local interest as medical marijuana legalization and increasing the minimum wage, many residents want to understand how their vote will translate to local actions. Community civics courses could be a way to connect with residents regarding recent policy changes to help them understand what changes they can expect to see in their day-to-day lives.
Public service has the core goal of serving the community in the best way possible. When you’re elected by the community, your actions must serve in favor of the community. When striving to increase community involvement, it will be especially important for municipalities to find creative ways to engage the community and garner resident perspectives. By centering community asks on donating time, goods, or services, it opens the chance for residents to get involved in creative ways.
For example, you could host focus groups to poll residents about issues that mean the most to them. Organize the focus groups based on issue areas to bring in stakeholders from varying parts of your city that have something at stake in doing the work to make a change within the community. Additionally, look to support donation drives with community organizations where amplifying the platforms for service can provide support for the community in its entirety. Finally, look for ways to have community leaders donate their platform so residents can amplify what matters most to them, and as a municipal government, you can hold the space to listen and effectively support residents’ concerns.
Being a public servant is more than a job, and part of that duty is making sure that the work you are doing is in service of the community that has put faith in your leadership. Effective service cannot happen in private—and it cannot happen without input from the residents in your community. The secret to building community involvement is working with an open heart and open mind towards crafting solutions together as a community.