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Engagement Lab Shows the Way to Better Public Engagement with Roadmap


A new tool launched by Emerson’s Engagement Lab promises to help civic leaders navigate the long journeys and bumpy roads of trying to get quality public input into a project or idea.

The Public Engagement Roadmap is an online suite of resources that nonprofits and government agencies can use to get citizens collaborating at every stage of deliberation on public issues. It was designed and built by the Engagement Lab in partnership with Living Cities, a collaborative of charitable foundations and financial institutions that work to “improve the economic well-being of low-income people in cities.” The Roadmap was supported by the Citi Foundation.

“The Roadmap is a story of what it takes for organizations to actually partner with communities, well beyond checking the box,” Eric Gordon, executive director of the Engagement Lab and associate professor in the Visual and Media Arts Department, said in a blog post announcing the site. “Understanding how to use media and technology to enhance the human part of public engagement is more important now than ever before.”

The Roadmap uses both digital and in-real-life strategies to get people involved in the development of projects and programs that affect their communities. It was developed based on findings from the City Accelerator program, in which the Engagement Lab and Living Cities looked for best practices in public engagement using real initiatives across the United States.

Over 18 months, Gordon and a team from the Engagement Lab helped city officials in Albuquerque support immigrant entrepreneurs, helped officials in Baltimore better connect with people returning home from prison, and helped New Orleans bring residents into the process of health care delivery services. Seattle and Atlanta also had projects.    

The Roadmap that resulted from the City Accelerator Program is divided into four sections:

The Toolkit helps users gauge an engagement plan’s status, strengths, and weaknesses, and offers exercises and activities to help them improve it.

The Guide features Accelerating Public Engagement, the comprehensive report written from the findings of the City Accelerator Program.

Case Studies tell the stories of the cities that participated in City Accelerator and how they used the model of “co-production” to better communicate and collaborate with the people they serve.

Finally, The Game is actually a table-top game called Chart the Course that takes players through every step of the public engagement planning process, giving teams the ability to use different tactics and role-play outcomes.

“This Roadmap is intended for cities around the country who recognize that the solutions for today’s toughest problems aren’t found in some hidden corner of city hall,” Ben Hecht, president and CEO of Living Cities wrote in Governing Magazine, “but rather are co-developed through partnerships with residents, community colleges and universities, nonprofits, philanthropic organizations, and the business community.”

Explore the Public Engagement Roadmap.

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