Keys to Improving Public Involvement in Government
Communicating with the public is such an important and under appreciated part of government. Seeing as how this is my fifth year working with government agencies as a public involvement consultant, I've assembled some randomly ordered observations for how government can better reach out to and involve the public.
You're Only as Innovative as Your RFP/Scope
Requests for proposals and scopes of services are the guiding light for consultants working on government projects. They lay out the expectations, tasks and goals for a project or program. But often these documents are made up mostly of boilerplate text that's reviewed by a bajillion people before it makes it out through the procurement process (which also probably sucks). Look, I always know theres always a little wiggle room here and there on a scope but scope creep is real and can devour margins, make all sides unhappy and yield a bad product.
To alleviate this, agencies need to find ways to add more life to the development of the Scope/RFP. Make sure the project manager's and agency's vision is clearly communicated. Reach out to people in related fields for feedback before finalizing. If the goal of the project is to create an agency's social media presence, reach out to industry experts to see what the goals and tasks should be. If these guiding documents are fresh, unique and clearly outlined, consultants can better deliver something that exceeds expectations.
Build Communities Around Your Agency and Projects
It's a really exciting time for government agencies and municipalities they explore the use of social media. Police departments using Twitter as a blotter to keep everyone informed about what's happening in the community, cities and municipalities using social media as a customer service solution; it's exciting!
But I see agencies simply use these tools to send links out more than I see them using it to get information in. Using these tools to create a community around an agency's mission and projects would yield something much more valuable than any public workshop. Social media reaches people where they are and lowers the barrier to entry for feedback. I would love to attend your workshop and give feedback on your project...while I'm home making dinner.
In my experience, government managers are afraid of two things: the unknown and an unfiltered stream of public input. But it's cool, don't worry. Set rules for your agency (and consistently follow them), make sure you comply with public records laws and have at it! Your agency, your products and your community will be better for it.
Embrace Good Design
I don't know about you, but I love a good white paper. The longer and wonkier the better. But not everyone has the patience, the time or the ability to work their way through endless pages of text and Excel charts. The one thing government agencies can do right now to make their documents and public information materials better is to find a graphic designer and let her run with it. Design can help someone connect with information quickly. Finding a way to communicate with the public visually can make a huge difference. Maybe turn that Excel spreadsheet into an infographic? Or layout that report in inDesign? If your report is very technical, have some fun with the executive summary as that might be read by more people. Understand the audience and design accordingly.
Keep it simple
I'll keep this last one simple. Don't use jargon. Fight the urge to give bombard readers with too much information. Keep an eye on the page count. If you are preparing something for the public (website, document, fact sheets, etc.) take it home. If your family can't understand it, no one else will.