From the Good Ideas File: Citizen Roles in Civic Problem-Solving

One of the critical messages in the book is that we need to fundamentally rethink how we involved the general public in our planning, problem-solving and general management.  And that goes for people who do economic development and urban design, too, not just community planners or city managers.  Across the board, our public engagement often falls far short of what our communities need – and it’s because we’re not only doing it all wrong, we’re doing it on the basis of often really bad assumptions about what they’re capable of.

When I posted this article at EngagingCities last week, I knew it belonged in the Good Ideas file as well, because it does a great job of laying out what those other roles for the public could (and should) be.  The author, Satish Nambisan, lays out a very clear four-phase model of potential public roles:

  • Explorer (reporting problems)
  • Ideator (coming up with strategies)
  • Designer (helping figure out how to get it done)
  • Diffuser (helping to spread the word and enable broader change)

Most of our public engagement, best-case scenario, doesn’t get past points 1 and 2 (sometimes they don’t even get that far).  The power, the real potential to enable us to make a meaningful difference in the future of our communities, lies with the third and fourth bullets.  And we can get there, we just have to work at it a little differently.



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