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As we continue to navigate the pandemic era, the Davenport Institute will be focusing on engaging with residents as cities look to retain lessons learned over the past year while also looking forward. We will be sharing thought pieces, podcasts, and webinars from our staff and strategic partners, highlighting free tech resources and toolkits, and featuring creative ideas for building community.

If you know of resources we haven't shared yet, please send them to us! We will be reviewing and updating this page regularly.


Thought Pieces on Public Engagement

Building Trust Through Digital Services - ICMA

The importance of a mindful, holistic approach to digital engagement

Parks and Recreation Help Combat the Loneliness Epidemic - ICMA

Finding creative ways for parks and recreatoin to help our communities grow stronger and more connected. 

Navigating Data in Local Government Decision Making - ICMA

Data and its usage continue to be something local governments are grappling with in real time and making adjustments as necessary to determine what works best for their specific organization and community.

How 15-Minute Cities Can Bring About a Culture of Community - ICMA

With so many benefits to residents, this community planning concept is something local government managers should consider.

The Power of Neighborhoods: A Conversation with an Expert on Fragile States - ICMA

Dr. Seth Kaplan examines what makes a neighborhood fragile and how focusing on the local level makes all the difference.

Cities and Counties Working Together - ICMA

Cities and counties can strengthen their relationship using principles of public engagement and elements of collaborative governance theory.

The Unique Diversity of Counties - ICMA

Geographic, cultural, and political diversity bring character to our counties, but also present challenges for local governments.

Public Engagement for Public Safety - ICMA

In the last few years, we have seen community perspectives toward policing shift significantly, calling attention to a changing paradigm in our neighborhoods.

The Grass Is Not Always Greener - ICMA

Sustainability is not merely a choice or an alternative, but an obligation to ensure that the world—primarily understood at the level of the local community—that we pass on is in as good of shape, if not better, than that which we inherited.

Making Cities Liveable for Families - ICMA

Families are worth prioritizing because they are particularly invested in the success of their community as the place in which they live, work, play, and raise their children. This generational commitment to the city is indispensable because it builds a form of social capital that is nearly impossible to replicate otherwise.

Youth Councils Can Strengthen Local Government and Build Trust - ELGL

In order for a local government to exercise 360 public engagement, which includes the entire community, they must also seek opportunities to connect with the youth population.

Digital Equity and Public Engagement - ELGL

Public engagement shifted to the virtual world, transitioning in-person meetings to online, QR code surveys, and more. This shift to virtual everything opened a conversation about what digital equity means today and how local governments can help their community members.

Local Government Success Hinges on Ethical Public Engagement to Build Strong Communities - ELGL

Our communities are only as strong as the bonds holding them together. Local governments that make the effort to collaborate with their residents and build meaningful relationships through transparent and ethical public engagement processes are successful in building stronger communities.

Addressing Mental and Emotional Wellness Through Organizational Culture - ICMA

Historically and today, there are many myths and misconceptions associated with mental health. These misconceptions led to widespread acceptance of wellness as defined by physical health, overlooking the critical significance of mental and emotional aspects of health. The pandemic forced us to consider mental and emotional health as key factors of overall well-being as we collectively navigated unprecedented times. This renewed focus and emphasis on mental health manifested itself at workplaces through not only employer-provided mental health programs and initiatives, but also calls to shift organization culture.

Participatory Budgeting as a Way to Reach Young People - ICMA

A city’s budget should be reflective of shared priorities and goals. How a city determines budget priorities is reflective of the city’s commitment to the role of public participation and collaborative governance. Policy decisions, especially those pertaining to budgeting, have the potential to shape communities for generations, and it is crucial for local governments to incorporate their communities in that process. Furthermore, participatory budgeting can be one avenue to more inclusive public engagement overall.

Lessons Learned in Ethical Public Engagement - ICMA

Effective, ethical public engagement can help build strong relationships between local governments and their communities. Founded on trust, the strength of these relationships can help communities endure unprecedented, challenging times.

Youth Councils Can Strengthen Local Government and Build Trust - ICMA

Youth are often overlooked during public engagement processes for multiple reasons. They are not old enough to vote, own property, or pay taxes. However, they represent the future of our communities and local government. Youth councils are a unique way in which local governments can work with schools and school districts to engage with the next generation. They are also an opportunity to cultivate interest in local government that in turn leads to an engaged and informed long-term resident.

Digital Equity and Public Engagement - ICMA

The definition of digital equity has changed and broadened since its conception in the 1990s. Recently, the pandemic placed a spotlight on digital equity when the world hastily transitioned to online work, school, and public engagement. Headlines abounded about students needing tablets and using commercial Wi-Fi to be able to complete their schoolwork. Concerns arose about equal access to vital health information as government communication systems relied on technology to safely reach out and engage their residents. Likewise, public engagement shifted to the virtual world, transitioning in-person meetings to online, increasing the use of QR code surveys, and more.

How to Effectively Evaluate Your P2 Efforts - California City News

Evaluation is hard in any field that is qualitative, and public engagement is no exception. How can you evaluate the effectiveness of a conversation or a passionate group discussion about an issue in your community?  We want folks who are impacted by projects to have a say in those projects. So how do we know if our public participation (P2) efforts have been successful? Over the last 30+ years of P2-focused work, we’ve found that while there is no “one size fits all” formula for evaluation, the key is feedback.

The P2 Club:Top 3 Ways Take Care Yourself Face Angry Neighbors - California City News

Doing community outreach and public participation (P2) is tough work – and we should know! We’ve been engaging with communities for many decades, and in order to keep on doing the work you have to make sure you take care of yourself.

5 Questions to Ask Before Starting the P2 Process - California City News

Public participation (P2) projects and processes can be intimidating and often lead us to ask, “Where do I even begin?” As advocates of P2, we’re excited that more people now recognize this as an essential component of good government; however, there is no one-size-fits-all formula.

How to Get Other People to Do P2 with You - California City News

Whichever of its myriad names you use – community engagement, neighborhood-focused communications, public outreach, public participation – we see that certain folks consistently get “stuck” with the added responsibility of P2. If you’re already a PIO (public information officer) or a City Clerk, you may very well get asked to take on P2. And if you’re already out in the community, engaging with folks around public safety issues, you might also get asked to take on P2. The critical thing to know is that P2 is better when people across your organization are working on it with you.

Top 5 Mistakes You’re Making With Public Participation - California City News

While public outreach and engagement is difficult, it is absolutely necessary for local governments and residents - now, more than ever. Between housing mandates from the state and increasing pressure from local community groups on all kinds of issues, there’s never been a more urgent time to implement public participation (P2) in your community.

How Local Governments Can Support Home-Based Entrepreneurs - ELGL

As home-based businesses become more and more popular, it is incumbent on local governments to help facilitate this commerce by removing unnecessary and burdensome restrictions that impede entrepreneurs. 

How Public Engagement Produces More Accountable and Effective Government - PM Magazine

With government officials hoping for more trust and the public asking for transparency and ethical behavior, there is one solution that addresses both sides: public engagement. This begins with a genuine commitment by government officials to not only inform citizens, but to invite their participation in the decision-making process.

Public Engagement Can Help Local Governments Effectively Invest in Public Transit - ELGL

The United States federal government recently approved the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act providing $89.9 billion toward public transit, making it the largest federal investment of this kind in American history. As cities around the country anticipate this influx of funding, they are starting to assess the best possible ways this investment can serve the community.

Local Governments, Home Cooks, and Community During the Holidays - Catalyst

Home kitchens sprang up across the country as individuals turned their own kitchens into restaurants, offering the sale of home-cooked goods. This new, innovative idea has continued to gain popularity even after the early months of the pandemic. Its continued growth stands out as an exemplary partnership between local governments and community members in 2021. 

Small Government Affordable Housing Solutions - Catalyst 

Across the nation, housing prices have reached record highs making it nearly impossible for many to buy or rent a home. As city governments try to find solutions, communities and community organizations are stepping up to fill the gap. 

Navigating a Career in Local Government - PM Magazine

In many ways, beginning and navigating a career in local government is more complex now than ever. Many cities are simultaneously facing staffing shortages and budget constraints, which creates a twofold situation: there is greater pressure and responsibility falling on the shoulders of local officials, and the prospect of entering the local government space appears more intimidating. Given the multifaceted nature of a career in local government, there is no one-size-fits-all path to securing a position in the industry.

How Local Governments Are Adapting to Hybrid and Remote Work - ICMA

Given the inevitability of increased remote work, local governments are tasked with finding ways to respond accordingly. This is certainly a challenge for many, as adapting to a rapidly changing economic and social environment with the pandemic still in the background is no easy task. However, it’s also a unique opportunity for local governments to launch and expand programs that can benefit residents in this new age.

Small Towns, Big Communities - PM Magazine

The new small town is not the boring, stagnant place illustrated in novels and movies. Instead, these small towns and cities are some of the most innovative places in the world.

How Local Government Is Leveraging Technology to Improve Public Engagement - ICMA

Local governments are tasked with finding ways to use data and technology to bring communities together, rather than pushing them apart. This is no easy task, as factors like age, income, and access affect how effectively different groups can use technology.

Engaging Marginalized Communities: Challenges and Best Practices - PM Magazine

Between the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest in the past year, many cities have either begun or expanded their outreach to marginalized communities. This is certainly a welcome development, as the combination of health, economic, and cultural challenges have severely affected groups already facing an uphill battle.

California Cities Look to Incorporate Digital Public Engagement Beyond the Pandemic - ICMA

Though the immediate future with regard to COVID-19 is unclear, innovative public engagement strategies have proven effective and should remain whenever the pandemic is fully behind us.

Interactions with Community-Based Organizations - PublicCEO

CBOs have served as crucial middlemen in delivering services and resources to individuals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent studies have found that CBOs play a key role in addressing social needs in partnership with local healthcare systems.

Public Engagement is Key in Applying Lessons Learned From the Pandemic - ELGL

As the end of the pandemic inches closer, families, businesses, and governments are navigating the transition back to "normal" life. For some, this means returning to work or visiting family and friends again, but for local governments, there is an additional layer by nature of their responsibility to serve their residents.

Communication and Engagement Post COVID-19: The need for both high tech virtual ability as well as a revisiting of traditional methods - PublicCEO

Over the past year, local governments have increasingly embraced virtual communication out of necessity, but at the same time most have developed an appreciation for it as a more heavily relied upon resource going into the future.

Why Diverse, Active Citizen Commissions Are Important - ICMA

Active citizen commissions and advisory boards are a unique way for local governments to involve citizens in the democratic process.

Leadership in Local Government, Part 6: The Leadership Journey - ICMA

It is important as a leader to listen to others and learn from other's viewpoints. Deciding to become a leader, however, is a very personal choice. Beware of naysayers, status quo thinkers, leadership myths, and conventional thinking when making that decision.

Innovation in a Time of National Crisis - PublicCEO

At the heart of this situation is active engagement to manage crisis response and build relationships in the local community. That engagement process is continually evolving through innovation and community driven practices.

Leadership in Local Government, Part 5: The Leadership Sauce - ICMA

The ingredients of the sauce are essential, yet personal to each leader. The best way to develop your leadership sauce is to experience and learn from both your successes and failures.

The Inevitability of Smart Communities - PublicCEO

The diversity of issues and opportunities faced by our communities are complex and multidimensional. We're talking about energy, climate, public safety, transportation, telecommunications, equality and equity, housing, and so much more.

National Month of Hope: Lessons Learned from Local Governments - ELGL

April marks the beginning of the National Month of Hope: a timely reminder of the power that comes from building relationships, community, and systems of support.

Leadership in Local Government, Part 4: Fear and Courage — The Leadership Duality - ICMA

Many studies have shown that by acknowledging and confronting our fears, they will become smaller, less daunting, and more manageable. The fear may not go away, but you will be able to take action in spite of the fear. The same studies also show that fears that are not acknowledged or confronted become more powerful and impede us even more.

News Deserts Lead to Loss of Engagement - Catalyst

The declining financial and staff capacity of local newsrooms to investigate stories close to home results in the local newspaper dropping in value to readers and the community. Beyond the immediate financial implications for local newspapers, there are two intertwined consequences: increased news deserts and a decline in community engagement.

Leadership in Local Government, Part 3: Leadership Paradoxes - ICMA

Leadership is as much about being flexible as it is about being decisive. Effective leadership behavior requires understanding and managing a series of paradoxes. Successful leaders understand these paradoxes and are flexible enough to modify their preferred behavior based on specific situations.

Leadership in Local Government, Part 2: Leaders Know Themselves - ICMA

Leadership is all about building relationships. It requires a deep understanding of one's self in order to develop successful and effective relationships. Hence, you can't lead others without fully understanding yourself.

Leadership in Local Government: What Is Leadership? What Makes an Effective Leader? - ICMA

Leadership is the art of influencing and encouraging others to help move an organization, community, or nation to a better place. The "better place" can be defined in terms of economics, environment, equality, or any set of values or principles. Leaders can never lead by themselves; rather, they must convince others to help them achieve their goals.

Regularly Published on Catalyst

Check out the Community/Public engagment articles regularly published on Catalyst by Davenport Institute Assistant Director Pooja Bachani Di Giovanna

Note: Some of these webinars have already taken place, but were recorded. In those cases the recordings are linked.

Davenport Institute and ELGL Webinar Series: Connectivity and COVID-19: A Year Later

Close and consistent connection to the communities you serve sets local government apart from national or even state government. However, this has made the social distancing restrictions of COVID-19 even more difficult for communities. ELGL and the Davenport Institute are excited to come together again for a five-part webinar series exploring how local leaders have maintained connection over the past year and what lessons can be applied moving forward.

Western Riverside Council of Governments Future Forward: Davenport Institute Featured
Ashley Labosier, executive director of the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, discusses how COVID-19 will affect the need for and means by which local governments engage. (Recording available here).

Davenport Institute and ELGL Webinar Series: Engagement During Pandemic Uncertainties

As local governments continue to wrestle with challenges of balancing community health and community connection during what is becoming a new normal of uncertainty, ELGL and the Davenport Institute are excited to continue the conversations we facilitated earlier this spring. This second, 4-part webinar series will explore how local governments are engaging residents as they seek to reopen, or in some cases to scale back reopenings, how they are moving forward with projects and programs that can't be postponed forever, and how they can partner with others to create community in the midst of this ongoing crisis.

Western Riverside Council of Governments Future Forward

A timely discussion on how to navigate governance in a virtual world and the implications of the Brown Act.

  • Navigating Virtual Governance and the Brown Act in a COVID-19 Climate (view the recording).

Davenport Institute and ELGL Webinar Series: Connectivity and COVID-19

Close connection to the communities you serve sets local government apart from national or even state government. This can make the social distancing restrictions of COVID-19 feel like an existential threat. ELGL and the Davenport Institute are excited to co-host a four-part webinar series exploring how local leaders are maintaining connection, both to community and to colleagues, that will last even beyond the current crisis 
(all four webinars are at 11 am Pacific Time).

  • Engagement Essentials: Meeting Public Access Obligations - Friday, April 24 (No longer available)
  • WFH (Working from Home) Team Building - Thursday, April 30 (Recording available here)
  • Mastering Virtual Communications - Thursday, May 14 (Recording available here)
  • Building Community and Rebuilding Connection - Thursday, May 21 (Recording available here)

International Association of Public Participation USA/Canada COVID-19 Webinars

The International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) series of webinars explores innovative and responsive best practices for public engagement during the COVID-19 crisis. The goal is to offer tips and advice on how to adapt and maintain community, address barriers to access, and facilitate meaningful conversations.

eDemocracy webinars from Ethelo
This regularly scheduled webinar is currently exploring democracy in the context of COVID-19. 

  • Democracy in a Time of Social Distancing (view the recording)

Institute for Local Government (ILG) webinar - Transparency, Public Access & Trust (view the recording)
This webinar looks at how local governments can navigate current and changing requirements for transparency and public access.

Crisis as Opportunity - Ashley Labosier, Davenport Institute for Mercatus Center, George Mason University
In this policy brief, executive director Ashley Labosier explores how local governments can foster inclusive, impactful public engagement and why that will be necessary during the COVID-19 recovery and beyond. 

Leadership Before, During, And After a Crisis - ICMA

Published before the COVID-19 crisis, this report includes a variety of case stories, qualitative research, and testimonials emerging from local government leaders. The Davenport Institute team found it offered helpful perspective to think about how the decisions we are making now when it comes to engagement and other challenges can impact beyond the crisis moment.

Four Government Strategies to Operate and Communicate Better During a Crisis - OpenGov
This eBook is available for download (you do have to provide contact info to OpenGov in order to download it) and explores how technology can help: 1) operate in an emergency & afterword,  2) two-way virtual communications, 3) agile planning in a crisis, 4) budgeting in uncertain times.


Technology Tools

A number of online engagement platforms have created special resources for local governments to use during COVID-19, many of which are available for free. We will be sharing tools that we come across and trying to help you navigate what they are designed to do. The Davenport Institute does not endorse any particular tool, and encourages local governments to think holistically about how online tools intersect with your overall engagement strategy.

 Tools for Informing Residents

Free Granicus Covid Toolkit: Recognizing that one challenge in a crisis is cutting through bad information, Granicus is offering Community Information Sign Up buttons and other tools for local governments to direct people to reliable, multi-agency government information.

Public Input COVID 19 Public Meeting Toolkit: This toolkit is designed to integrate conferencing, live broadcast and social media tools into a single platform to allow for both continuation of regular open public meetings as well as more innovative engagement efforts.

HSAC@SPP Crisis Map: For Southern Californians, Homeland Security Advisory Council at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy is using it's SALUS emergency management platform to provide a place-based picture of all things COVID-19 related.  From an overview of persons diagnosed with COVID-19, to a map of LAUSD, LA County and Orange Count school district "grab and go" food locations,  older adult nutrition center information, temporary shelters, and more it's an excellent tool for keeping up-to-date on an ever-changing situation.

Los Angeles Forward Crisis Response Guides: Most relevant to our Southern California community, this is a reliable library of crisis response guides, designed to target various audience groups. These include resources for the financially vulnerable, resources for families and parents, and resources for mental health care.

Sobre Nosotros COVID-19 En Español - Volunteer Based
Volunteers are translating articles from English to Spanish from credible sources that contain valuable information about COVID-19 for the Spanish-speaking public. The website portal also includes various infographics, guides on social distancing protocols, case statistics, and helpful guides for evaluating potential symptoms.

 Tools for Consulting Residents

Polco - Free COVID-19 Community Polls: Online survey platform Polco has created a series of pre-loaded surveys available to local governments with the creation of a free profile.

  • The Household Status Survey reveals how residents are getting information, perceived levels of risk to the community, and employment situations
  • Resident Knowledge and Attitudes Survey measures and tracks resident knowledge of COVID-19, attitudes and emotional health
  • Community Action Survey shows support for actions community leaders could take, and what behaviors and actions residents are taking to help stop the spread of COVID-19

Center for Priority Based Budgeting :This tool for budget engagement and transparency provides a variety of resources for local governments to connect with both residents and other practitioners and well as tools for mapping challenging fiscal scenarios to provide local government leaders with the tools to reduce uncertainty, think proactively, and understand their agencies' financial futures.

 Tools for Collaborating with Residents

While these tools are not specific to COVID-19, they are good options for those of you taking advantage of the shift from "business as usual" to explore ways of encouraging online collaboration, here are some platforms that allow residents to interact, not only with government, but with each other for a more robust discussion of community ideas and priorities.

Bang the Table's Engagement HQ : Australian-based Bang the Table is the OG of online public participation. They offer a range of feedback tools from moderated comments, polls, and surveys to facilitated forums and idea sharing, to storytelling, to map-based placemaking.

Ethelo - Online Decision Making : Ethelo is geared toward consensus building through engaging diverse stakeholders in a series of ranked choice and prioritization exercises around complex issues to foster a comprehensive decision-making environment. It uses a combination of algorithms to provide clients with practical results and identify fair decisions in difficult situations.

PublicInput : Designed to integrate online and offline engagement, PublicInput provides an online dashboard that can incorporate feedback from in-person pop-ups and workshops as well as online forums, social media comments, etc. It also contains tools for identifying where feedback is coming from that can allow you to target a greater diversity of residents, or to focus in on those most immediately impacted by a decision.

 Tools for Building Community

Weaving2020: #WeavingCommunity is a national conversation project full of resources for building stronger communities during times of crisis. It provides online conversation guidelines, conversation prompts, and best practices for sharing experiences, testimonials, and emotions in environments shaped by crises.

Living Room Conversations Coronavirus Guides: These comprehensive conversations guides serve as a tremendous resource for communities to begin conversations regarding the impact of COVID-19 in a constructive way. This platform offers a simple, structured, and responsible way to build a greater understanding and cultivate new relationships.

Imagine Neighborhood Resources for Children: It can be hard to know how to connect with and engage the youngest members of our community in a time of crisis. But for many children, COVID-19 has meant significant disruption - schools and daycare centers closed, parents perhaps more physically present but balancing work and childcare, little or no access to friends and extended family. The Imagine Neighborhoods Podcast, geared for children age 4-11, is providing age-appropriate podcasts about the pandemic that could be a valuable starting point for engaging children.


Additional Resources

Code for America Interns: Code for America's founder is aligning 1000+ interns to help governments with their most urgent digital, data & operational needs as they respond to the crisis. Services range from making it easier to collect data, maintain functional websites, and building digital products. Could your government use some extra help?

CivicTech Coronavirus Field Guide: This field guide includes continuous updates on COVID-19, virtual events, funding opportunities, and collaborative civic tech projects as a way to build community as we respond and recover to the current health crisis.

(ELGL) Local Government COVID-19 Resources: Since March, ELGL has been crowd-sourcing their membership for resources related to COVID-19 response. It's a lot to sort through, but for those looking for a deep dive its a robust place to start.

International Association of Public Participation (IAP2) Resources: IAP2 Canada has collected a significant list of resources specific to engagement. We will seek to highlight some of them on this page, but wanted to link to the full list for those interested in a deep dive.

Institute for Local Government COVID-19 Resources: The Institute for Local Governments' page contains a frequently-updated list of broad resources for local governments addressing COVID-19, some of these are public engagement related (we will try to share the most relevant ones here as well)