Open Municipal Government Toolkit – Public Engagement
Public Engagement Is About Communication
Public engagement is a two-way street. It is how Council proactively seeks input directly from citizens and provides a direct opportunity for Council to speak directly to citizens on an issue. Good public engagement leads to better decision-making. It also helps build long-term relationships between Council and citizens.
Any public engagement exercise should have clear objectives in setting up expectations for Council and the public, and the level of engagement. Council must clearly communicate to the public as to the expected level of engagement so as not to set up false expectations. The purpose of each public engagement exercise can be broadly categorized as:
- Inform on issues or decisions;
- Consult to gather viewpoints and opinions
- Involve to obtain feedback and input on possible solutions
- Collaborate to actively work with citizens in developing solutions
- Empower to provide citizens with the final decision
When embarking on public engagement, Council should determine the appropriate level of engagement given the issue and the decisions that have to be made.
Accessibility Is Part of Engagement
Along with openness and transparency, accessibility is important for engagement. Easy access to offices, Council and staff is essential to serve the public, which is reflected in the Municipalities Act. The Act specifies that the municipal office must be open a minimum of 20 hours each week. Offices must also accommodate residents with physical challenges.