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Pepperdine University gives City its highest honor for public engagement

Post Date:05/05/2017 8:00 AM

The City of San Luis Obispo’s efforts to boost community participation have been recognized by Pepperdine University, which announced that the City has earned its highest honor for community involvement – the Platinum Public Engagement award.

Pepperdine’s Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civic Leadership, which promotes citizen participation in governance, honored the City for its dedication to involving residents in local decision-making through the use of advanced public engagement policies and techniques.

The award was presented to the City at the Council meeting on May 2.

Davenport Institute Award

“I appreciate all the efforts of our staff to make public engagement a priority in everything they do,” said City Manager Katie Lichtig. “Our goal is to ensure the public feels that City Hall is accessible. Our work better reflects the community we serve when citizens are engaged and informed.”

For more than a decade, the institute has worked with city and county governments to improve the ways in which they involve their residents in making difficult policy decisions.

The institute launched its “How Are WE Doing?” public engagement evaluation and award program last May in response to frequent requests from local leaders seeking to take a “30,000 foot view” of their government’s public engagement practices.

Through the Platinum Award, the Davenport Institute recognizes that the City of San Luis Obispo has scored highly on more than 17 of the 20 criteria listed on the Institute’s Public Engagement Evaluation Platform, creating an environment amongst the City staff that promotes ongoing resident engagement.

“San Luis Obispo is a city that seeks to place residents at the center of policy making,” said Davenport Institute Executive Director Ashley Trim. “Public engagement is never easy, and there is always room for continued growth. But San Luis Obispo is setting an example of how to create a culture of participation city-wide. It’s an example we hope others will follow.”

The City has deliberately set out to increase community involvement, starting with the creation of its Public Engagement and Noticing (PEN) manual, which established a consistent approach to engaging the public and has since funded a contract with a local firm for services to support communication efforts.

Along the way, the City has worked to instill a culture of engagement across City departments, and it has formally prioritized public engagement in key staff job descriptions for the Administration and Community Development departments and for all city planners. The City has improved outreach and transparency with e-notifications to the public, social media updates and an “open government” website that features easy access to important documents, such as financial reports. The City has also partnered with Cal Poly, Cuesta College, local non-profits and civic organizations.

The public has responded well to the efforts: In January, the City set an attendance record for its annual community workshop and goal-setting forum. The forum drew 550 people, who lobbied for items they wanted the City to prioritize in the next budget cycle. The following month, the City held a packed town hall-style discussion regarding its Rental Housing Inspection Program. And earlier this month, the City held the first of a series of public meetings to gather public feedback on the City’s marijuana policies.

In the past, the public has offered important input on issues that include the future of downtown, local sales tax Measure Y, and the former Mardi Gras event.

“The City is thrilled to receive this honor because it shows that our efforts to get the community involved in local government have been noticed,” said Mayor Heidi Harmon. “Allowing people to have a greater say in the decisions that impact their lives is a mainstay of democracy, and we’re pleased that the Davenport Institute is doing such a great job promoting involvement.”


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