New playbook offers feds tips for engaging citizens


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Gwynne Kostin, the director of the General Services Administration’s Digital Services Innovation Center, announced the launch of the U.S. Public Participation Playbook, a resource to help federal managers better engage with citizens.

During a panel at Tuesday’s 2015 Adobe Digital Government Assembly presented by FedScoop, Kostin said the playbook signals a departure from the “if you build it, they will come” mentality so popular in government. The people don’t actually come, she said, and the federal government needs to start engaging them from the start.

“The hard thing is creating a sustainable process and doing that level of engagement to really drive folks and really meet their needs,” she said. “You can’t say ‘Today I’m going to be engaged’ and expect a lot of people to show up.”

GSA has been at work on the Public Participation Playbook for the past few months, but it hasn’t been at it alone. More than 70 “engagement experts” from dozens for federal agencies collaborated on the development of the document. The playbook was subject to three periods of public comment, and it will continue to be a living guidance, open to public contributions through the Federal Public Participation Working Group.

GSA’s federal social media program lead Justin Herman told FedScoop in December that the playbook has been a priority for improving all government programs.

“An open government is one based on public participation, collaboration and transparency, and no matter what your federal program is, in the modern world there will be a need for either more engagement, better accessibility, improved data analysis or reporting,” he said.

The playbook consists of 12 “plays” — with small checklists of considerations and other resources — structured around five broader categories: establish goals, understand the playing field, design participation, facilitate participation, and evaluate and report. These categories “should be addressed in all programs, whether digital or offline,” the playbook says.

“Public participation — where citizens help shape and implement government programs — is a foundation of open, transparent, and engaging government services,” the playbook says. “From emergency management, town hall discussions and regulatory development to science and education, better engagement with those who use public services can measurably improve those services for everyone.”

Here are the 12 initial Public Participation Playbook plays:

1. Clearly define and communicate your objectives.

2. Understand your participants and stakeholder group.

3. Understand and communicate the benefit of participation.

4. Empower participants through public/private partnership.

5. Select appropriate design format for public participation.

6. Design for inclusiveness.

7. Provide multitiered paths to participation.

8. Provide effective and timely notifications.

9. Encourage community building through responsive outreach.

10. Protect citizen privacy.

11. Use data to drive decision-making.

12. Transparently report outcomes and performance of participation.

Whitney Blair Wyckoff contributed to this story

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Agencies, Applications & Software, Citizen Services, General Services Administration (GSA), Government IT News, Gwynne Kostin, Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, open government, open source, Tech