Engagement Rearrangement

A set of proposals to improve the City of Austin’s community engagement routines.


1. Verified, digital “preference” voting platform

Austinites should be able to register to “vote” on a web application that allows them to express their support on public matters before Council (or other public bodies). Identity must be verified, and probably should be done in a process similar to actual voter registration (e.g. an address check based on mail and other existing records). ┬áSuch a system will be convenient, more representative, and provide decision-makers with more accurate information than the status quo.

This idea was originally discussed in this previous post.

2. Curated public testimony

For certain contentious topics, Council should ration public time in front of decision-makers. This is what some previous City Councils have done through a “10 speakers for each side” testimony cap technique.

Such a convention should be formalized to create a consistent system for spots to be allocated to quality presentations and to make the curated approach the norm, reducing the incentive for groups to show up en masse for fear of being out-bodied if the testimony cap is not deployed.

This idea was originally discussed in this previous post.

3. Provide childcare at meetings

The benefits of this investment are outlined in this piece by Rebecca Ritzel.

4. Compensated citizen juries & deliberative polls

These techniques help resolve the unrepresentative nature of existing public meetings, both in terms of the status quo feedback formats being most attractive to a niche of economically- and logistically-privileged residents, as well as the status quo formats disproportionately motivating the sliver of local citizenry with the most hardened perspective.

This idea was originally discussed in this post.

5. Create a public engagement office

Move away from project-by-project, privatized public engagement vendors and instead have an in-house team that can maintain centralized data and standardized best practices.

6. Enhanced citizen survey

Switch to a quarterly citizen survey format, including questions on the high-importance policy issues du jour, as well as adding question prompts relevant for policy/investment impact evaluation.

7. Public opinion research foundation

The City (along with the other local governments, large employers, and private philanthropy) should help fund an organization that conducts continuous public opinion polling on local institutions and relevant local policy topics. The organization’s mission would be to provide the complete results of said polling to the public in perpetuity.



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