In local government the issues that are faced are more localised, more in your face and more likely to be seen at the street level instead of on a national level. Although levels of citizen engagement in local government are questionable at best and raise serious questions about how we get people more interested in engaging with their local council.
Recently, we read up on some research conducted by the National Research Center in the United States about peoples day to day involvement in their local councils and what they do to be involved in the process. The research is of interest to us here at PublicVoice as we are interested in finding ways to increase peoples engagement with local government and get more people involved.
The research highlights a number of interesting results that have us thinking about how they apply in a New Zealand context and so we want to compare how the results found in the United States could relate to the New Zealand environment.
Some of the key results from the United States include:
1) 19% of Americans attempt to contact their elected councillor or official on a matter in the community in the last year
2) 25% of Americans attended a community meeting in the last year
3) People who have lived in the same area for 10+ years are three times more likely to go a public meeting
4) Residents wont speak up unless an issue negatively affects them
5) Young people are not interested and unlikely to be involved
6) The higher your income, the more likely you are to want to be involved
The research noted that a lot of those people who attended community meetings where most likely to be repeat attendees and have a view on the issue at hand. According to the research, people who attended community meetings are likely to have a side they fight for and are politically active for their cause.
It also talked about how young people are not involved given they are often busy and do no have the time to be involved in local government or do not know how to voice their opinion directly.
It would be interesting to compare the results to New Zealand levels of participation with local government. It is likely that many of the results from this research can be similar to what is the case over here.
For example, I notice that:
1) Most people wouldn’t contact their elected councillor or official at council level in New Zealand
2) Those that do attend community meetings often have a direct interest in the outcome of the meeting
3) People who live in communities longer often are generally more interested in voting compared to those who haven’t been around for long
4) Most people only will speak up when a big issue happens that affects them
5) Young people are sadly not interested, voting numbers prove that time and time again
6) The higher your income, the more likely you are involved in your local community
7) Local government just isn’t as exciting as central government eg Dirty Politics
Currently in New Zealand our involvement at the local levels of government is quite low and according to the Department of Internal Affairs our voter turnout has majorly decreased which would majorly impact on the types of people involved in local government.
What we have found here at PublicVoice that has worked well to engage people back into local government is the use of our Citizens Panel which enables your community to become involved by actively asking them what they think about certain issues within the community.
In a modern time where people no longer have the time to go out to a community meeting or write long formal submissions to their council and here at PublicVoice we love helping people engage with councils all over New Zealand.
The research carried out in the United States shows that while some people don’t want to be involved or don’t feel connected that there is still opportunities for people to be listened too which is what we want to see more off in New Zealand.