Monday, January 30, 2012
As federal agencies tighten their belts, they’ll be questioning the value of citizen participation initiatives under the Obama Open Government Initiative. Do they lead to better results or reduced costs?

A new report, “A Manager’s Guide to Evaluating Citizen Participation,” by Tina Nabatchi, an assistant professor at the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, is designed to help answer these questions.

Dr. Nabatchi says “Two types of evaluation are relevant for assessing citizen participation:”

  • Process evaluations, which help managers better understand and improve the implementation and management of a citizen participation program, and
  • Impact evaluations, which help managers determine whether the participation program has produced its intended effects, and then helps them make decisions about fine-tuning the program.

For each, she provides a series of steps to take, which she says “represent practical, non-prescriptive tools, designed to summarize and organize the essential elements of program evaluation as they pertain to citizen participation.”

Dr. Nabatchi also offers examples of places where evaluations have made a difference, including Pinellas City, Florida, Seattle’s Neighborhood Planning Program, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Do evaluations make a difference?  Past evaluations of the District of Columbia’s “Citizens Summits” that demonstrated the effectiveness of engaging neighborhood-level citizens may have contributed to the current mayor sponsoring a “One City Summit” slated for February 11th

A helpful appendix in the report even provides action-ready evaluation design worksheets.