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Pepperdine | School of Public Policy

Revitalize Local Involvement with a Public Engagement Certificate

Ashley Trim Labosier giving a presentation

The Davenport Institute and the Pepperdine School of Public Policy are pleased to offer a new professional certificate aimed at aspiring leaders hoping to make a difference in their local communities. This certification comes at a time when distrust, apathy, and cynicism in government and other institutions is at an all-time high. With it, we hope to prepare leaders who can re-vitalize public involvement and help lead and inspire residents in the often-arduous work of self-government.

A small city that is now a booming suburb of San Francisco was a sleepy farming community just a few decades ago. Long-time residents don't want to become victims of urban sprawl, but a young workforce desperately needs affordable middle-class housing.

After a school shooting in a Southern California, city parents want assurance that children are safe, but no one wants a school that resembles a high-security prison complex.
The state of California has legalized marijuana, and one city in a relatively conservative part of the state is trying to figure out how to regulate sale and use. Some residents are ready to hop on the 420 bandwagon but most are worried about long-term implications.

These are just three of the real public engagement challenges that participants have brought to the Davenport Institute's "Professional Certificate in Advanced Public Engagement for Local Government."
All of these challenges require the traditional skills of policy analysis—balancing current and projected human and fiscal resources, complex knowledge of bureaucratic systems, an understanding of legal constraints, and mandates and jurisdiction.

But they require something more: the ability to convene diverse viewpoints and interests to wrestle together with real tradeoffs. In other words, they need to engage with all the messiness of community and culture.  And that is something that isn't taught in most MPP or MPA programs (though Pepperdine's own MPP is a very notable exception!).

For the past decade, the Davenport Institute has sought to equip local government staff and elected officials with this "21st century leadership skill" through half-day and full-day trainings. In June 2017 the Davenport Institute and the School of Public Policy banded together to offer a deeper dive into public engagement for those local leaders seeking to design and deliver good public processes around complex issues.

The result? A three-day professional certificate that incorporates peer learning and intense training from experienced local government leaders and public engagement experts so that participants leave ready to put their new public engagement skills into practice.

Participants spend a long weekend at the Pepperdine campus in Malibu exploring such topics as building a culture of engagement and getting it right from the start, incorporating online tools and mobile technology, engaging traditionally marginalized communities, facilitating difficult conversations, emerging tools and techniques, and more.

"I feel really reinvigorated to do my job," said Valerie Cantella, public information officer for the City of Goleta and alumnus of the February 2019 cohort, "I am a PIO, so I do a lot of public information, but I want to really do public engagement. I got a plan—an actual plan and something strategic to do moving forward in our program!"

Very few cities have a dedicated staff position for public engagement, so participants carry a variety of titles: public information officer, assistant city manager, management analyst, housing analyst, senior planner, and city clerk, among others. For many of them, the certificate offers a valuable opportunity to connect with colleagues working on very similar strategies who they may not otherwise run across in their own professional networks.

Right now, the Davenport Institute is accepting applications for the summer offering, July 19 – 21. If you or someone you know would benefit from this unique program, check it out! More information is available on our website.