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The Potential of Merging Public Policy with Community Development

Submitted by Paul W. Davidson on March 28, 2016 - 3:58am
Utilizing The Power of Municipal Advisory Committees

What would happen if we blended community development with public policy? Would we be better off if local governments took a community development approach to municipal administration? Vibrant communities are built when citizens and local government work together to make change. The best way to determine the answers to these questions is to study the work of municipal government advisory committees.

Local governments are often unable to deliver “soft services”, such as social, cultural, and environmental programs, because all their resources are tied up in providing “hard services”, such as water and sewer or infrastructure maintenance. Community members interested in tackling some of these social, cultural or environmental issues often face challenges because they do not have the same power and influence inherent in government. Therefore, a medium needs to be provided for both sides to come together to accomplish what neither can accomplish alone.     

Advisory committees provide this medium as they consist of both elected councilors and community volunteers who work together on various issues. These committees give residents a chance to work with council on finding solutions to common problems. The issues they deal with tend to be the most important social issues facing the community. Here are a few examples of different advisory committees and how they benefit the community:

  • Accessibility Advisory Committee works with council to improve accessibility issues in the community. Complete communities are those in which no barriers exist, regardless of mobility issues. These committees consist of community members with accessibility issues, so they have an understanding of what needs to be changed and how to change it.
  • Sustainability/Environmental Committees work with council to improve the environmental management and stewardship of the community. These committees develop community initiatives that preserve nature areas, keep the streets and parks clean, and promote recycling/waste diversion programs.
  • Heritage Committees work with council to preserve and promote all aspects of the community’s heritage. These committees can help develop adaptive reuse for abandon heritage properties, as well as educate the community on the town’s history.
  • Agricultural Committees work with council to advance the needs of local food producers and ensure the community has the means to produce locally grown food.       

Most community development initiatives are directed at government, so this gives both sides a chance to work together to make change. Advisory committees are non-political bodies that provide a voice for the community at the council table. These committees work directly with elected officials and staff, which mean they have the ear of both the administration and council. Having these tools at their disposal provides enormous potential for successful community development initiatives.

Participation on advisory committees also gives community members an idea of how policy decisions are made. They are asked to provide comments and opinions on staff reports and community projects. This knowledge can also help members understand how to go about proposing their own initiatives to council.

Unfortunately, little to no research has been done into the potential benefits advisory committees can have on community development. I believe more research should be done on the subject as advisory committees contain enormous potential for community development enhancement.   


Advisory Committees

Thanks soo much for highlighting this for of citizenship engagement in public policy. I agree, it is hard for people to feel confident participating in public debate if they don't understand the issue. Joining an advisory committee is a great way to learn and participate simultaneously. 

I am loving your blogs, Paul. Keep em coming!