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September is Civic Awareness Month!

September is Civic Awareness Month!

Compiled by Julia B. Hillegass, Public Information & Community Affairs Administrator
As the International City/County Management Association notes, the month-long celebration of Civic Awareness Month reminds us of the importance of cultivating an informed, involved citizenry that can work in partnership with its local government.  If citizens can participate in solving problems at the local level, they can regain a sense of stability and trust in the process of good government. The ability to participate in solving problems depends on citizens’ understanding of the complex issues facing our communities and their leaders.  Hampton Roads PDC and many other planning district commissions foster civic engagement and social responsibility.  Here are just a few examples:
•    Our monthly Commission meetings offer an opportunity for citizen comment on issues of regional importance.
•    Directors of Utilities, Health, Planning, Emergency Management, Housing and Stormwater Program managers meet regularly to coordinate programs, increase efficiencies, jointly research, plan and implement innovative initiatives, share lessons learned and institutional knowledge.  Many of these meetings are open to the public.
•    The newly launched askHRgreen.org website and blog creates a conversation among area residents about environmental topics including recycling, wise water use, pollution prevention, air quality and more!
•    Websites and social media allow public access and engagement like never before.  Hampton Roads Planning District Commission meetings are available on YouTube, agendas, presentations and reports are available online so that citizens can review and comment at their leisure.

Many local governments have formal programs to educate citizens about how their local government functions and what the various departments do and the challenges they face. Often called Neighborhood Leadership Institutes, such as the Neighborhood Leadership Institute offered by the cities of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach or Neighborhood Universities, like the one offered by the City of Norfolk, these popular programs enable citizens to participate with a level of competency that ensures more civil discourse and informed engagement.   Similarly, private sector groups such as the Chamber of Commerce offer leadership and civic engagement training for a wide cross-section of the region.

We live in a representative democracy with local leaders elected to represent our needs and desires in setting policies and direction for our communities. By educating citizens, local governments not only strengthen the ability of citizens to participate in solving community problems, but also to elect leaders whom they believe can represent their concerns, thus reducing some of the fear, anger, and sense of loss of control.  A well-know TV ad refers to an educated consumer as the best customer. For local governments and their citizens, an educated citizenry may be their most valuable asset.
To find more resources on civic awareness:
•    Locally, the Hampton Roads Center for Civic Engagement structures and facilitates civic engagement processes that provide for the productive collaboration between the citizens and their governments.  By encouraging the inclusion of more citizens in the public choices related to their region’s quality of life and future, the Center’s work enhances the accountability and transparency of public agencies.
•    White House Director of Digital Strategy Macon Phillips just announced this new way to petition the federal government about issues you want to see action taken on.  Check out the site at www.whitehouse.gov/wethepeople/ and comment here on the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation blog to give even more feedback.
•    The NCDD also offers the “Resource Guide on Public Engagement,” which includes resources, core principles, and successful examples of public engagement.