PublicVoice is a digital engagement company. We help government and the public sector consult and engage with the public. We believe in what we do, so we decided to write an article about what public engagement is, and why it is important now and likely to be even more helpful in the future.
What is Public Engagement?
Public engagement is quite a new term, it originated in the UK in the late 1990’s. One definition that sums up public engagement pretty well is as follows:
“Public engagement is a process that brings people together to address issues of common importance, to solve shared problems, and to bring about positive social change. Effective public engagement invites average citizens to get involved in deliberation, dialogue and action on public issues that they care about. And, it helps leaders and decision makers better understand the perspectives, opinions, and concerns of citizens and stakeholders”
Public engagement is used in a variety of sectors, from arts and heritage to science policy and local government (the area that we are most active in here at PublicVoice). The PublicVoice Citizens’ Panels are a timely and cost effective way of gathering opinions from the wider community. These opinions are representative of the community as a whole and are a key tool to aid effective decision making. Check out our case studies to view some examples of what a Citizens’ Panel can achieve.
Why is Public Engagement Important?
When done well, public engagement means that decision making will be guided not just by the usual suspects – the vocal minority who may not be representative of the community as a whole. Public Engagement is much more wide reaching as it is designed to include those members of the community whose voices have traditionally been left out off community debates.
Effective public engagement results in a number of benefits for decision makers:
It helps people to consider a variety of perspectives and listen to each other’s views;
It can aid the development of common understanding which establishes direction for moving ahead on the issues;
It builds trust and improves communication between the public and community leaders.
It creates a new, convenient way for citizens to become involved in decision making.
The Future of Public Engagement
Public engagement, and in particular ‘digital democracy’ will continue to grow in importance in future years we believe. Technology is a key part in many people’s lives. This has made online surveying perhaps the most effective way to get the opinions of the community as a whole. An online approach allows respondents to get involved in decision making at a time of day that suits them, using a communication medium that they are comfortable with. At PublicVoice we have observed that the people on on Citizens’ Panels actually enjoy receiving the various surveys about local issues of importance. It’s quick and easy to be involved, and results of the engagement process are readily available, which makes everyone feel a part of the process. Public Engagement is definitely here to stay and we are excited to see how it develops and evolves to meet the changing needs of the communities we engage with.