Increased citizen participation in government: Fad or new reality? Part Two

Increased citizen participation in both nonprofits and government seems to parallel the rise of the new economy. Can we harness the interest to both improve governance and satisfy citizens?

Increasing meaningful citizen participation in government is an important goal. Part one of this article series introduces the topic and its parallels to similar trends in the nonprofit sector.

Solutions which require legislative action by the governmental unit often require even more time. The legislative process is designed to consider input from many interested parties, with a goal of producing solutions that are effective and minimize unintended consequences. Many of you are thinking, and I must admit, that in practice, it doesn’t always happen this way. History is littered with the debris of poorly-researched, incompletely-considered and hurried legislation that creates more problems than it solves.

The challenge, then, for governmental units, is to first build trust with citizens by engaging in responsive, thoughtful deliberation which seeks to solve problems as broadly as possible. Once that foundation is laid, governments need to find ways to begin two-way communications quickly with episodically-involved citizens that are effective, work toward resolving the issues and are respectful of the citizens need/desire to interact in this episodic fashion.

At the same time, the government unit needs to help citizens understand the inherent complexity of many of these issues and the need to accommodate a multiplicity of viewpoints, the unit’s limitations in terms of staff and revenue and the likelihood that solving the problem may take longer than both the individual and the government desire. Unfortunately, I do not have a simple, one-step solution to this. I do think that the creative use of current and future electronic/computer communications technology may be a significant part of the solution.

Gregory Saxton, in his paper titled part three

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