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Engagement 101

The City of Boulder is working to improve its engagement culture and processes because it recognizes that local government makes better decisions and creates more responsive programs and services when the community it serves has a meaningful voice.

This website is designed to provide resources about Boulder's efforts in this focus area, as well as general information about what good engagement looks like at the local government level.

Key Terms

What is engagement?

Boulder defines engagement as an active, expansive relationship between the city and the community that includes any level of public participation; this typically encourages two-way dialogue.

What is public participation?

Public participation is a type of engagement that usually occurs in decision-making processes. It can define minimum standards, such as public hearings, comment periods and open records. It also can indicate a range of public involvement approaches from informing to partnering and collaboration.

Public Participation Working Group


Boulder has long been a community that supports public participation and process. In recent years, however, both City Council and staff began to hear concerns from community members who were not feeling heard or represented in decision-making. In response, council decided to involve the community in assessing the city’s work to date and recommending ways to enhance public engagement. It appointed a 14-member group of community members to explore the issue in January 2016. The members presented their findings to council in August 2017. 

Boulder's Engagement Strategic Framework

In Fall 2017, after the working group presented its findings, council directed staff to develop a strategic implementation plan, outlining how the city will begin to improve both the culture of engagement in Boulder and its processes for seeking input prior to significant decisions. Council adopted this framework in November 2017.

The framework includes:

  • Why: The purpose of the strategic framework and the city's engagement mission;
  • How: The strategic objectives and timeline of the activities to meet those objectives;
  • What: Engagement methods and best practices to follow when pursuing engagement efforts;
  • Who: The city employees and groups who will collaborate to enhance engagement efforts; and
  • Results: The process the city will follow to measure progress.

Read or download the full framework pdf or scroll down this page for snapshots of some of the essential components.

Boulder's Six Strategies for Success

As the city works toward culture change, it has identified six strategies that will serve as focus areas: learn together, help people know what to expect, cultivate respectful relationships, be transparent, use the right tools, and evaluate and evolve.

The City of Boulder's six strategies for engagement success include: learn together, help people know what to expect, cultivate respectful relationships, be transparent, use the right tools, and evaluate and evolve.

Boulder's Decision-Making Process

Consistency is a key element of several of the strategies shown above. Recognizing this, the city is piloting the following decision-making process, pdf first envisioned by the Public Participation Working Group. Your local government will strive to follow these steps for all major policy decisions in 2018 and 2019.

Boulder's decision-making process includes the following stages: planning, shared learning, options, decision and process assessment stage.

Levels of Engagement and the City's Promise

Not every project the city undertakes requires the same level of public participation. Frankly, some issues are of more community interest than others. Occasionally, decisions are so constrained by financial, technical or legal limitations that it becomes more valuable to explain these than to seek the public's input.

The International Association of Public Participation recommends that governments be clear about the level of engagement they are choosing each time they embark on a new project. Boulder has committed to considering four possible levels when designing future public participation opportunities.

The city's levels of engagement align with those recommended by the International Association of Public Participation and include: inform, consult, involve and collaborate