inCommon is the Participatory Governance Blog of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy. Here you will find information about the latest resources, studies, programs and discussions about Civic Engagement in California, throughout the nation and around the world. We hope that the case studies and technological innovations discussed here will spark new reflection and conversation regarding both what legitimate civic engagement looks like and why it is important for good governance, particularly at the local level.

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Knope Approach or Haverford Approach?

A recent piece on the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation blog looks at approaches to engagement as exemplified by Parks & Rec and asks what the real moral of the story is for local governments.  While the piece focuses mainly on “pushing out” information – the informing side of the public engagement spectrum – it has some good insights into the ways residents process information and how to make that most accessible:

The Internet has demanded that we change the old practices of public engagement. We must now show and tell more compelling stories; we must be more authentic and less self-serving in our conversations. In return, we no longer have to rely on costly one-way messaging or direct communication with limited audiences. We now have wide-reaching, 24/7 access to the public.

I have spent the better part of the last decade on the front lines of engaging with the public using many of the techniques I lay out in this report. Whether through innovative uses of social media data for organizations like NASA and C-SPAN or graphics that help end users learn more about a complex topic for brands like Intel and Google, these are not just theoretical recommendations but tried-and-true lessons.

You can read more here.

Sparking Engagement with Police?

It seems to be an international trend among law enforcement agencies in their public engagement efforts.  Quite the conversation starter.

Ever-extravagant Dubai has added a $1.6 million Bugatti Veyron to its expanding “super fleet.” But the high performance vehicles aren’t intended to outrun the bad-guys.  Rather they’re part of an extensive public relations campaign to build connections between citizens and tourists.

Closer to home, the Los Angeles Police Department has similar plans for its new Lamborghini Gallardo. With a tighter budget than the Dubai force, the LAPD is only borrowing the exotic car from owners Nathalie and Travis Marg, who have donated use of the vehicle to serve charitable events.

And in a more modest, but also rather more charming move, the Welsh Dyfed Powys Police has unveiled a novelty police tractor in hopes that it “will strike a chord with rural communities and encourage public engagement in agricultural events over the summer months.”


The Power of Effective Design

Mistrust of government is one of the biggest obstacles to effective civic engagement.  And lack of transparency – or a perceived lack of transparency – is fatal to public trust.  And as we’ve noted before on this blog,  it is not enough just to make information available – it must also be understandable.  This example of the power of design is one of the best case studies of a simple solution to a very frustrating problem:

Your car gets towed, and who do you blame? Yourself? God no, you blame that impossibly confusing parking sign. It’s a fair accusation, really. Of all the questionable communication tools our cities use, parking signs are easily among the worst offenders. There are arrows pointing every which way, ambiguous meter instructions and permit requirements. A sign will tell you that you can park until 8 am, then right below it another reading you’ll be towed. It’s easy to imagine that beyond basic tests for legibility, most of these signs have never been vetted by actual drivers.

But Nikki Sylianteng has a way to change that.  Read about her novel and elegant parking sign redesign at wired.com.  Explore her website here.


Better Engagement in Santa Fe?

The City of Santa Fe, New Mexico has a new group advocating engagement in town.  How effective Santa Fe Forward will be in promoting engagement remains to be seen, but it sounds like an interesting alternative to community organizing or issue-specific advocacy.  And it has some interesting connections to city hall:

Oppenheimer, who will serve as board chairwoman, said the group was formed as a result of the mayoral campaign.

“During the campaign we did a lot of outreach through conversations, house parties and knocking on doors, and we were struck by how important it was for the community to be engaged in issues. We didn’t want to lose that momentum,” she said.

Oppenheimer said Santa Fe Forward plans to periodically hold community conversations about issues that impact Santa Feans. The first one will address voting rights and city services on the city’s southside. It’s scheduled for 6 p.m. on July 22 at the Southside Library, and Mayor Gonzales is scheduled to attend.

You can read more here.