Neighborhood Leaders On Citizen Participation in Austin, Texas: A Descriptive Study
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Citizen input is a necessary requirement of an authentically democratic government. While voting is still the prevailing solution, declining public trust in governments worldwide has triggered public officials to find other techniques for soliciting citizen input. At the federal, state and local level, public administrators seek direct citizen involvement through citizen participation. Citizen participation provides a means of two-way communication between citizens and policy makers, and ideally, results in mutually satisfying policy outcomes. Simply providing an opportunity for direct citizen input, however, is not the panacea for successful policy creation. Without proper execution, citizen participation activities can return expensive, one-sided policies, co-opted by citizen groups or public officials. In short, citizen participation must provide opportunities for authentic or meaningful citizen involvement to be effective. Defining meaningful citizen participation through the following six indicators, Broad Public Participation, Issue and Process Framing, Deliberation, Management Effectiveness, Credibility and Tangible Results, this project describes Austin, Texas neighborhood leaders' confidence that city-sponsored citizen participation are authentic. To achieve this purpose, a survey of neighborhood groups listed on the Austin Community Registry was conducted. Using a Likert scale design, respondents scored their agreement with a series of statements based on the indicators. Descriptive statistics were used to calculate a mean value for each statement. Four mean ranges were identified and labeled as follows: no confidence, low confidence, some confidence or high confidence. Survey results indicated that neighborhood leaders have little confidence in Austin citizen participation efforts as five of the six indicators, Broad Public Participation, Issue and Process Framing, Deliberation, Credibility and Tangible Results fell in the low confidence range. Neighborhood leaders had some confidence that Austin, Texas efforts include Management Effectiveness. Overall, results suggest neighborhood leaders value citizen participation, would like to have more options for how to participate, feel efforts lack credibility, and that recommendations made through participation are rarely implemented.