Encouraging Public Participation in Community Development
by Dan Kahl
In the September 2007 issue of the Center for Engagement and Community Development newsletter we highlighted seven areas of focus for investment to create healthy, sustainable communities (see Developing Thriving Communities through CECD). These seven aspects of community are referred to as "elements" or "capitals." These elements comprise the "what" of community development. They can serve as a reference for community members to use when identifying areas for planned investment or improvement.
Equally important to community development is the "how," or the process used to involve people living in the community. In the United States, public voice and opportunities for involvement are essential for project support and sustainability. Abraham Lincoln once said, "Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed."
Effective community development processes require public participation, but engaging the public in this important dialogue is increasingly challenging in the 21st century. Citizen mobility, dispersed families, and increasing levels of independence aided by technology are just a few of the barriers to citizen involvement.
CECD recognizes the importance of facilitated public discussion in this process. Engaging citizens in planned community investment helps a flock of migrating citizens to grow roots and invest both in the community of place and in one another. Facilitating this type of dialogue is the process of building community.
Working with the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy (ICDD) and professionals in K-State Research and Extension, CECD is training public dialogue facilitators to help local government and citizen groups to come together in conversations for planning and problem solving.
For more information on the ICDD facilitation workshop or for assisting with public facilitation, visit www.k-state.edu/icdd or contact us at CECD.