And why it ought to be done, year in and year out, by a political party. That’s right. A political party.
If you want strong local leaders and involved citizens in the future, start today by helping people find one another and get organized for any legitimate purpose. Then be patient. The good news: Cities are good at helping people make connections. With a little effort, they could be great.
Most local officials have it wrong about citizen engagement. The point isn’t to hear what the citizens think about issues before the government. It’s about something deeper: understanding citizens’ long-term interests and desires. If done right, it can then lead to a second important goal: Recruiting citizens in taking on a community’s greatest problems and opportunities.
Cities are often bogged down in unproductive debates for a simple reason: They’re talking about issues in the wrong way. Smart leaders know the right sequence, which involves talking thoroughly about the problem and the benefits of solving it before talking about the solution. In other words, “what” before “how.”
There’s a way of thinking about change in communities that’s so simple, it can be expressed as a formula. But behind this equation is deep insight into what causes people to change–and how much change they’ll accept.