What is the value of civic engagement? Why should local government officials care? And why is it important for local stakeholders to find a way to help guide their community’s future? A midwest community recently completed a citizen satisfaction survey and the results of the survey defined the community as “benign”. The survey described the community as one where engagement wasn’t a priority for the local government and residents simply left the future of the community to those elected to represent them. There weren’t any glaring issues in the community and community leaders were not advancing any big ideas or preparing long range strategic plans. All is good when things are calm, right? Unfortunately, the community is now struggling to sustain itself and has fallen behind in required infrastructure investments and other amenities necessary to make it a preferred location to live in.
We all recognize the changing dynamics and conditions impacting our communities and how important it is to responsibly address the immediate and long term investment needs of the community to sustain itself. This investment goes beyond financial investment and includes everything that adds to the community’s overall quality of life. If there isn’t an effective way to understand the perspectives of local residents and taxpayers, beyond what you hear from the small crowd that comes to meetings or the few phone calls received on a topics, significant - and expensive - decisions could be made that vary significantly from the overall desires and expectations of local stakeholders. Community divisiveness and conflict will undoubtedly occur, which could take generations to repair, when this disconnect is ultimately discovered and recognized.
Sometimes, it is important to consider the buying decision of a person or family deciding where to live. A lot goes into deciding where to move (or stay), but these personal decisions are typically made by determining where will offer the most benefit over time. This benefit may be economic, social, cultural, or any of a number of possibilities, but any measurement of benefit is grounded in what the community does to make life better for its residents and businesses. If local decision makers don’t pay attention to what local taxpayers and stakeholders need and expect, the community may find itself, over time, in the unenviable position of falling behind other communities where the overall quality of life (and return on investment) is considered higher.
Every local decision impacts the overall quality of life in the community and the reality is, you sometimes only get one chance to select the community’s long term direction. It is worthwhile to invest the time and effort into finding effective ways to truly engage local stakeholders who can help decision makers make more informed decisions about how to move the community forward and, as a result, maximize the overall return on investment and quality of life for its residents.