Creating local change can be difficult, between finding the time, motivation, and opportunities to participate. For this week’s blog, we’ve put together a few simple ways you can become a civic leader in your own backyard (even from your own couch).
1. Listen to Community Members
Head over to your city’s website to see when the next community meeting is. For instance, here’s the calendar the City of Minneapolis publishes. You’ll likely hear grievances and suggestions from your fellow citizens, but these local gatherings may only attract a few vocal participants. While these meetings may be poorly attended, you’ll have the chance to directly introduce yourself to leaders and make your voice heard.
You can also actively listen for issues in your town while talking with your neighbors, teachers, and other community members on a daily basis. Some cities even have digital engagement interfaces where citizens can submit work requests, complaints, or suggestions to laws and ordinances. You can check out a few examples here.
2. Attend training sessions, webinars, and local events
If you want to learn more about engagement techniques, try searching for webinars and online training sessions. On October 4th, groups like the Participatory Budget Project and Healthy Democracy will share their success stories and tools you can use in your local community in a free webinar. Because it’s easy to get lost in the rabbit-hole of Google search results, using Twitter and Facebook to connect with engagement groups will likely fill up your feed with similar resources.
It can be overwhelming to know where to start when you want to volunteer. Databases like VolunteerMatch and Create the Good can help connect you with the right groups for causes you care about. If you use Facebook, you can filter local event searches by selecting the “Causes” category. Or, you can work backwards, by searching for nonprofits in your area and reaching out to them directly to see if they could use any help.
4. Bring friends
For all of the above, you don’t have to go it alone. Invite your friends to come along, and you’ll likely be more motivated to show up. Plus, you can hold each other to it.
This option can work from the safety of your own home or your favorite coffee shop. Write about issues affecting citizens in your community, and send your drafts out into the universe. Many organizations working on civic engagement and participation want to hear from the public, to guide their own efforts, see new perspectives, or work with you to publish what you’ve written. At the Jefferson Center, we’d love to hear your ideas for new stories.
6. Listen, read, or watch
While this one may seem like a cop-out, getting informed on issues is half the battle. Instead of tuning out, find your favorite way to keep updated. If you’re not a reader, check out podcasts like Democracy Now!, or find out which organizations have their own YouTube or Vimeo accounts. You can easily share this content with others to spread the message and increase familiarity with deliberative democracy.
7. Download FREE resources
If you’re thinking about creating an engagement project, or just want to learn more about different processes involved, look online for resources. For instance, Participatory Budgeting Project has training videos, materials, and guides that are free to download. After each of our projects, we publish our full reports and findings on our website.
8. Teach Others
You can also use free resources and reports to help teach others about how deliberative democracy works. Whether you talk with your friends, family, or host a formal community meeting, involving other people will help spur new ideas and pave the way for future projects.
9. Remember all your resources
If you’re trying to contact your local government representatives, local newspaper, or other organizations, don’t give up after one phone call. Using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, sending emails, sending letters, and showing up to an office can help get your voice heard.
10. Partner with the Jefferson Center!
Sure, this last one may edge on self-promotion. But the Jefferson Center strives to shorten the gap between citizens and the institutions, policies, and issues that affect their daily lives by empowering citizens to solve shared challenges. Our process is made up of three key components: we listen to stakeholders in your community to gain a deeper understanding of the issue at hand. Then, we develop a specialized engagement process to unleash creative citizen ideas. Finally, our project partners use the public designed solutions to: advance actions in their local community, reform institutional practices and processes, and guide policy development and decision-making. For more information on our process, head over to our about us page.
Bonus: You can also make an individual donation! Every contribution makes a difference, helping everyday Americans develop and promote thoughtful solutions to challenging problems.