Enhancing Community Engagement: Breaking Down the Barriers of Local Government

NJMMA Spring 2019 Conference -- Community Engagement

What are you doing as a municipal government to be the face of your town? At the spring conference, Pamela Borek and David Kois, both of Hillsborough Township, offered a presentation about their success in enhancing their township’s engagement with the community through positive relationships.

The speakers explained that enhancing community engagement required breaking down the barriers of local government for the people of the community. The primary solution is to establish relationships in a number of ways – person-to-person, event based, and through social media.

Person-to-person relationships begin with a positive work environment. “If your office has a positive relationship with their work and with each other,” said Borek, “this positivity can be passed on through engaged, positive customer service to the people of your community.” This will only lead to more positive interaction between the government and its community, in turn, breaking down the perceived barriers of local government.

The second positive relationship builder is through event-based engagement. These are events that engage government with the community, including things like community fairs and business networking events to homegrown initiatives. An example from Hillsborough was a restaurant week where the town teamed with 30 local restaurants to offer unique experiences for townspeople, while supporting local businesses. Events like these take minimal work at the government level, and can go a long way in establishing these needed town/constituent relationships.

“To avoid overburdening yourself or your office,” said Kois, “it is important to find balance and move toward better community engagement.” Quality over quantity is the advice in these situations, but it can be helpful to leverage what may already be happening in the community to the municipality’s advantage and to keep staff from becoming overburdened.

Borek and Kois reinforced the proper use of social media as a necessity for continuous engagement with your community. In this regard, Kois pointed out that leveraging can then help create content for your social media pages and website which can in turn help you create even more engagement online.

“The endgame of all of this work to better engage with the community is to show how the community can uplift everyone who lives in your municipalities,” concluded Borek, “to create engagement at different levels and to be true representatives of your constituents.”