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How we can all practice engagement to make what we do better
Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Throughout our busy project season here at Ascentum, I’ve also been working on the capstone report for my MPA degree. Through my research, I’ve learned about a wide range of policies and practices that government departments and agencies have adopted to help them build the organizational capacity needed to effectively integrate public involvement at the federal level.

However, in this blog I want to focus more on public and stakeholder involvement occurring at more local and personal levels. The reason is simple: we often see public involvement as a large-scale process that is managed at the higher levels of government. However, it can also be a sustained effort coming citizens themselves, who can use it to their own benefit to improve their everyday work and activities.

One interesting example relates to what Sophia Parker, an associate with the U.K. think tank Demos, calls “service design.” This approach provides real value for public services because it is about “understanding services from people’s perspective that actually then helps you work out how you might improve that service, how you might innovate around it.”

In a recent podcast, Ms. Parker talks about a teacher she met through her research. In collaboration with his students, the teacher developed a questionnaire that is conducted on a monthly basis to engage students with questions that truly matter to them, like “did you find the lesson boring?” and “did the teacher mark your homework on time?” Although some teachers had reasonable apprehension over the use of this survey, Ms. Parker notes that “it’s starting to generate some really powerful data… And he’s using it in a very open way; he’s not just keeping it to himself and using it to punish people. He actually gives it out to his staff and it helps them prioritize how to allocate resources, how to use their time properly and so on.” And since the questionnaire is conducted regularly, it is considered to be “part of the service instead of an additional set of activities.” You can listen to the entire podcast at http://www.archive.org/details/ServiceDesign.

Among many things, this case shows that citizens shouldn’t think of public involvement in an entirely passive manner (i.e. “when will I be consulted on this issue/policy/program?”). If we focus on the goal of improvement, then public involvement isn’t just about being consulted; it’s also about doing consulting – at different levels and in different ways – to make a real impact on our everyday lives.

– Tristan Eclarin –

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