Why Reach Out and Engage Your Community?
Healthy communities have an active and engaged citizenry. There are many ways to engage. Civic engagement is a broad term used for the many ways community members are involved in civic life, from volunteering on a town committee to coaching youth hockey, taking care of local trails, or joining the garden club. All of these activities add to the health of the community and create strong social connections or social capital. Public engagement is involvement in local decision-making – decisions that have an impact on the whole community.
Most people associate public engagement with local governance. New Hampshire has a strong tradition of local governance and citizen participation. Most towns generally operate with the town meeting form of government, where the registered voters in the town act as the town legislature, and a board of selectmen acts as the executive of the town. The community is invited to gather and decisions are made at the annual town meeting.
Communities also deliberate and make decisions about community issues such as planning for a new development project, school-related topics, and local budgets outside of the annual town meeting. Community members must have an opportunity to participate in the discussion and decision-making, and community leaders have a responsibility to reach out and engage their citizens. Residents often have personal knowledge or experience with a community issue; ideas, alternate plans, or solutions not previously considered; suggestions for resources; or offers to lend their skills to projects and tasks. Community interest, understanding, and support for an issue, project or program will increase with engagement of citizens.