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5 Keys To Enhance Civic Engagement

5 Keys To Enhance Civic Engagement

In today’s divisive world, where trust in government is at an all-time low, it’s more important than ever for local governments to step up their civic engagement game. The reality is that most governments are already doing a lot with little. It doesn’t help when residents are misinformed or don’t have the context to understand the full picture when it comes to how tax dollars are spent.

In a recent webinar, ClearGov’s CEO and Co-founder, Chris Bullock, shared insightful strategies for enhancing civic engagement and fostering a transparent, trustful relationship between governments and their constituents. Here are the highlights:

First, Where’s The Disconnect?

According to the Pew Research Center, only 7% of Americans believe local governments effectively share data. In today’s digital era where data and technology are plentiful, residents expect modern services and the availability of information in the palm of their hand. Right here, right now.

Governments that do not have a modern web presence, or that are not transparent with information, stoke mistrust and the misperception of wasteful spending.

While we can’t fix the overall divisiveness felt throughout the country right now, local governments can effect change by making it clear that they are forward-thinking, have nothing to hide, and are open to residents providing feedback and being involved in decisions.

Now let’s dig into five simple ways you can improve civic engagement.

Start With A Vision & Plan (and keep the plan alive)

A clear vision and a strategic plan are the cornerstones of effective civic engagement.

It’s not just about having goals, but also about how you communicate those goals to your residents. Showing the big picture helps residents understand the direction their community is heading and how they fit into this future.

However, remember that a plan is only meaningful when its progress is tracked and shared openly. Too many plans are created and sit on the shelf collecting dust! As part of your strategic planning process, identify performance metrics and regularly report on them to show your residents that real movement is being made toward your goals.

It also helps to connect your plan to your budget. While a large portion of your budget may go to daily operating and personnel costs, adding connections where possible goes a long way toward helping residents understand how their tax dollars are being spent for the betterment of the community.

Capital Projects Transparency

Capital projects are physical representations of a government’s work and its direct impact on the quality of life for its residents.

Transparently sharing updates, timelines, and financial details of these projects keeps residents apprised of progress and creates a platform for feedback and engagement.

ClearGov’s Capital Budgeting platform transforms traditional, dense CIP books into beautiful, interactive websites. This creates a sense of ownership and pride among residents and checks all the boxes for local governments that want to be more transparent about capital projects.

Financial Transparency

Trust is the currency of effective governance, and financial transparency is its foundation.

By sharing detailed financial information in an interactive and accessible manner, governments can bridge the communication gap often felt by residents. No one wants to read a 500-page PDF to learn how their tax dollars are being spent.

Budgets should be shared as interactive websites with charts and graphs to make complex financial data easy to understand for anyone. The site should be searchable, mobile-friendly, and ADA-accessible. It should also be openly shared and communicated across all digital channels (i.e. your government website, social media pages, community Facebook groups, email newsletter, and SMS texting).

Features such as Open Checkbook and a Financial Transparency Center underscore a commitment to openness and allow residents to easily search expenditures, funding, vendors, and trends. Adding commentary to your transparency center provides context and helps residents understand the “why” behind expenses and decisions.

This approach demystifies local government finances and the “financial black hole” by building a foundation of trust through clarity and engagement.

Performance Transparency

If you measure something, you’re more likely to act on the information you have.

Sharing key performance metrics via department dashboards is a testament to a government’s commitment to improvement and accountability. It allows residents to see the successes, understand the challenges, and recognize the leadership driving their community toward its goals and long-term vision (as outlined in your strategic plan and shared, of course!).

Performance transparency turns abstract goals into concrete achievements. This fosters civic pride, keeps residents informed, and naturally makes them want to be more involved.

Invite Input

True civic engagement is a two-way street. Simply sharing information is only one part of being transparent. Invite input from residents to foster trust and show your commitment to continual improvement.

Make it easy for residents to ask questions, provide feedback, and understand your government’s decision-making process. Create FAQs, send out digital surveys, or mail paper surveys, and hold town hall meetings for folks who prefer in-person communication.

Just be sure to keep the engagement in an environment where you can control it. Avoid using social media as unmoderated discussions can quickly turn ugly. ClearGov’s Capital Budgeting platform automatically creates beautiful, interactive web pages for each of your capital projects where you can enable (moderated) commenting. This lets governments provide regular updates and context on projects that residents can respond to with questions or comments.

ClearGov Pulls You Out Of The Financial Black Hole

In a digital age where misinformation can spread quickly, building a modern web presence that is not just informative but also interactive and transparent is essential.

ClearGov’s ClearBudgets suite empowers local governments to meet these challenges head-on and fosters a community of informed, engaged, and trusting residents. Whether you need a capital, personnel, or operating budget solution, ClearGov has a dedicated tool for the job.

Our solutions are easy to use while saving you time, improving accuracy, and enhancing your communication and decision-making processes. All key elements for a more engaged and happier community!

Schedule a quick demo today to see if ClearGov is right for you.

March 12, 2024

Matt Benati

Matt Benati is Vice President of Marketing for ClearGov®, the leading provider of Budget Cycle Management software for local governments. Matt is passionate about helping organizations modernize their annual budgeting process by automating workflow, increasing collaboration, and improving transparency between governments and citizens.