With close to 158.4 million ballots cast according to the Pew Research Center, the 2020 presidential election saw a record voter turnout – over 20 million more than the 2016 election. Despite the record, the US Census reports that this was only an estimated 66.8% of Americans who were registered to vote. While the increase in voter turnout is encouraging evidence that more Americans are realizing the importance of civic engagement, there is still much more to be done to get the population engaged within communities and politics as a whole.
This should start with citizen engagement in local government, as it’s far more accessible than getting involved on the state or national level, and the changes that result from civic participation will be more visible. Considering the drastic political divide and significant lack of bipartisanship in the United States, citizen engagement in local government is more important now than ever.
What is civic participation?
Civic participation encompasses a wide range of actions, all aimed at bettering the quality of life in a given community through both political and non-political means. Youth.gov defines it as “working to make a difference in the civic life of one’s community and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference.”
When it comes to answering a question like “what is civic participation?” it’s important to remember that it’s more than just voting. In fact, voting is really the bare minimum of civic participation. Some consider voting a civic duty, or responsibility, but citizen engagement in local government or on the state or national level shouldn’t stop there. The answer to “what is civic participation?” includes activism, volunteering, community gardening, donating blood, tutoring, and a whole lot more!
Civic engagement happens in every community across the globe, no matter how small. Of course, not all communities have the same level of engagement, and it shouldn’t be any more surprising to learn that communities with higher levels of participation have higher standards of living and face fewer difficult issues requiring complex problem solving. Such communities still face problems, but the strong culture of civic participation amongst its residents, organizations, government, and other parties means they’re better prepared to deal with problems.
This underscores the importance of citizen engagement in local government – if citizens are looking to make a change in their communities, they have the power to do so. Not just by voting, but through community decision making and involvement, life can be improved. In turn, this will strengthen civic pride and encourage more civic responsibility and participation that can be instilled at a young age.
How do you increase civic engagement in your community?
There is no one-size-fits all way to foster a community with thriving civic engagement, no “cheat code” as it were, but one of the keys to encourage citizen engagement in local government is inclusivity. In fact, inclusion should be part of the answer to the question “what is civic participation?” In an environment where everybody has a seat at the table to diagnose problems in the community, come up with solutions, and carry out those solutions, a community can thrive.
After all, the goal of civic engagement is to create and maintain a better community, so all members of the community should have a say in how that’s done. Inclusivity shouldn’t be limited to race, sex or gender, or social class, but also encompass different ability levels, industries, agencies, organizations, and more. Through inclusive citizen engagement in local government, all aspects of a community – schools, religious organizations, nonprofit groups, businesses, government, and individual citizens – can most effectively work together to address public needs so all can benefit. This will then pour over into engagement at the state and national level.
Whether it’s economic development, education, health and safety, environmental or other matters, inclusive citizen engagement in local government can result in long lasting solutions that are representative of all in the community, improving the quality of life for all. Learn how local governments across the country use the GovOS Online Civic Services platform as a means to support connection with citizens.