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.
Smart citizen engagement follows two principles. It is based on mutual respect between citizens and government officials, and it believes that the greatest progress is made through partnerships, with everyone doing his part.
As we’ve grown in recent decades in our knowledge of how cities work, we’ve lost our understanding of how city politics works. As a result, we have a greater storehouse of what ought to be done, but less and less knowledge of how to do it.
Much of what we know about communities and leadership isn’t new; it’s relearned. Take the Montana Study, a bold experiment in citizen engagement that took place 67 years ago . . . and still surprises us.