Chapter 5: Gain Public Feedback on a Proposed Policy or Program

Policy and program decisions are frequently seen as political, backroom dealings, closed to the public. However, opening up conversations about legislation and government programs for public feedback has had notable results. Having these communications with the community makes stronger, more effective policies and programs, ready for immediate implementation because the city and public have already had foundational conversations about workflows, funding, and resources and established a consensus.

Case Studies

In California, Assemblyman Mike Gatto created a wiki page to enable the public to draft, edit, and make suggestions about potential legislation. Even though the resulting bill was introduced and vetoed in the state legislature in September 2014, Assemblyman Gatto is organizing the communal drafting of additional bills and encouraging public participation in the policy process.

Pittsburgh, PA, involved residents and the public in crafting and revising its open data policy by posting it as a Google Doc and allowing others to suggest edits. This process promoted extensive and thought-provoking conversations. Several councilmembers and the budget director have been active in facilitating the conversation and encouraging the public to join in. Many of the 100+ comments on the policy appeared in the final version of the ordinance.

Chattanooga, TN, took to GitHub to collaborate on its new open data executive order. Throughout the course of this revisioning, there were 13 issues closed (accepted suggestions), 14 pull requests (submitted suggestions), and 48 commits (individual edits). The community was extremely engaged, excited about Chattanooga’s open data program, and interested in a typically wonky process. Mayor Andy Berke’s involvement and promotion of the communal edits to the city’s open data policy helped build buy-in internally and externally.

Washington, DC, is using Madison, a tool for collaborating on public policy proposals, for its iteration on its open data policy. So far, there have been 37 participants, 145 comments, and 169 annotations. The city sees Madison as a platform to bring city officials, legislative members, and residents together in a common forum, enforcing the city’s goal of open and transparent communication with its community.

The OutFront website in Fayetteville, NC, empowers residents to weigh in about city services and help direct resources and improvements. The platform enables residents to interact with each other and city staff members to discuss what’s going on in the city. In Oakland, CA, residents can join the conversation, giving input on programs, suggesting innovative solutions, and voting on others’ ideas through the city’s Speak Up, Oakland! website. Residents have requested additional information and insight into the permitting and development process and called for more makerspaces for Oakland’s artist community. The main theme in these forums is that residents want to be engaged with the government’s program and policy decisions and will take any opportunity to get involved.

Questions to Consider

  • Does the culture of your city support using a free, widely available tool (e.g., Google Docs, GitHub, or Madison)?
  • Is there money in the budget to build, buy, or adapt a more sophisticated and comprehensive tool?
  • Could an online, collaborative tool work well alongside more traditional venues for public input on proposed legislation or programs, such as community meetings and city council hearings? How would you ensure that they work together?
  • Who is your expected audience or set of contributors? Which tools are they most likely to be comfortable with?

Related Tools and GovEx Resources

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