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A Guide to Practical Public Engagement for Local Government

Madeline Henry is a program coordinator for the Institute for Local Government and can be reached at mhenry@ca-ilg.org.


The Institute for Local Government (ILG) has developed a framework any city can use to plan and implement its public engagement efforts. The TIERS Public Engagement Framework for Local Governments and TIERS Learning Lab support city officials and staff’s use of deliberative planning to better engage the public.

Multiple Benefits of Engagement  

Your city benefits from effective public engagement in a number of ways:

1.   Better understanding of the public’s values, beliefs and priorities;

2.   More informed residents;

3.   Improved city decision-making;

4.   More community buy-in and support with less contentiousness;

5.   More civil discussion and decision-making;

6.   Faster project implementation with less need to revisit; 

7.   Greater trust among staff and between the community and local government; and

8.   Higher rates of community participation and leadership development.

TIERS Public Engagement Framework

The TIERS Public Engagement Framework for Local Governments contains five “pillars” — Think, Initiate, Engage, Review and Shift. Each pillar provides step-by-step directions and companion resources to build a comprehensive public engagement plan.

Think. The first pillar guides cities through the initial planning stages of a public engagement effort. This includes conducting a self-assessment, considering the appropriate public engagement approach and building connections in your community. 

Initiate. Using the Initiate pillar, cities begin to develop their public engagement approach and outreach plan. It is important to consider a mix of in-person and online activities to ensure representation from target audiences.

Engage. The Engage pillar walks cities through implementing the outreach and public engagement plans and ensuring roles are clear and adjusting as appropriate. It is important to consider potential internal, organizational and external challenges that may arise.

Review. After conducting a public engagement effort, reviewing the effort is essential, beginning with an evaluation of the public engagement approach and outreach plan. This phase includes considering what worked, what could have been better and what, if any, training is needed to improve the effort. The review also comprises reflecting on the barriers the city faced and sharing lessons learned with others.

Shift. The final pillar, Shift, encourages organizational changes that would support future success, shifts in external relations and the implementation of policies or resolutions related to public engagement.

TIERS Learning Lab

The TIERS Learning Lab is a training and coaching program for local government teams of two to five individuals. In the lab, city officials and staff: 

•   Learn to use the TIERS Public Engagement Framework to successfully plan and implement public engagement, whether it is a one-time event or an ongoing, holistic approach;

•   Discuss strategies to overcome a wide variety of common barriers and challenges in public engagement efforts; 

•   Work through a relevant local public engagement example to better understand resource-related choices such as staffing, money and time;

•   Connect with other cities, counties and special districts in the region to provide mutual support for successful public engagement efforts; and 

•   Benefit from customized technical assistance and coaching before, during and after the lab.

ILG will conduct a TIERS Learning Lab in March 2018 in Sacramento. To learn more, contact Madeline Henry at mhenry@ca-ilg.org or (916) 658-8205. 

Find the complete framework and information about future training opportunities at www.ca-ilg.org/TIERS.

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