Citizen Disengagement

Governments have lots of choices about when and how to engage with the public. They can open the doors wide and be in conversations with citizens about what they do and why, or they can keep the doors tightly shut and engage only when absolutely necessary. I just received an example of keeping the door tightly shut that also represents a huge, missed opportunity.

Here is a report from a local government on water quality.


I don’t understand a word of this document and clearly I’m not supposed to. It is entirely off putting in design and language and the only purpose I can glean from it is that the water department was able to check off it’s to-do list that they sent out the water quality update.

Most people believe that their water is better than that of Flint, MI. At least we hope that it is, although we don’t have evidence to back up our hope and hunch. This report could have been a great opportunity to prove to residents that the local water is safe and healthy.  Instead, this government agency chose to hide behind bureaucratic, scientific gobbledygook and hope that we are so dazzled by the nonsense that we don’t storm the fortress demanding any more information. They’re going to numb us with technical detail and hope no one complains.

Let’s imagine a different kind of effort. Imagine if the local government asked on a social media platform where they were having regular discussions and conversations with citizens if anyone with graphic design and writing skills would volunteer to help turn the technical report they received from the water testers into an easy-to-read and understand primer on where our water comes from, how we know that it’s safe and how the government intends to continue to keep it safe. I believe that people want to help and are waiting to be asked to contribute in meaningful ways. And they’re still waiting to be asked.

The Resistance will be won by remaking the relationship between government and citizens will begin by changing the conversation one, little step at a time.



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Allison Fine

Copyright © 2018 Allison Fine