Three pilot communities will test collaborative best practices in official public meetings.

The city is excited to announce its partnership with the National Civic League (League) on the ‘Better Public Meetings’ project, with the goal of improving public meeting experiences and outcomes in local government. Boulder was chosen by the League as one of three pilot communities to generate ideas and solutions for best practices in public meetings.

An official public meeting is defined by the League as open to the public, where elected or appointed officials are present and policy decisions are being made. In Boulder, the focus will specifically be on improving processes in City Council meetings.

“The Communications and Engagement Department has dedicated increasing resources and achieved significant milestones in improving community engagement over the past several years,” said Sarah Huntley, director of Communications and Engagement for the city. “Much of this work, however, has occurred outside the context of official meetings. We now have an exciting opportunity to innovate and make City Council meetings more engaging and satisfying for all involved.”

Better public meetings are possible, sustainable and measurable. By creating a localized strategy, the city will work with the League to design an inclusive and collaborative formal process with the public. There are two main components of the project’s research design:

  • Civic Engagement Scorecard: This tool features a quantitative rating system for community members who are participating to provide feedback on the civic health of public meetings. The online scorecard will be available during all City Council meetings beginning Sept. 7 through Dec. 7, 2023. Community members are encouraged to provide feedback based on their experiences at these meetings.
  • Civic Infrastructure Scan: This feedback mechanism consists of qualitative interviews with community members who are involved in various capacities with public meetings, including local leaders and members of non-profit organizations. These interviews have already occurred, and the League will be sharing key themes in the months ahead.

The League’s Center for Democracy Innovation is committed to understanding, testing and disseminating innovations that can make democracy more participatory, equitable and productive. Public meetings, an important component of local democracy, are in desperate need of improvement in most communities,” said Matt Leighninger, Director of the League's Center for Democracy Innovation. “The ‘Democracy Innovations for Better Public Meetings’ project has an opportunity to improve public meetings so that they can live up to their potential as an avenue for community members to practice everyday democracy.”

In addition to these League-supported efforts, researchers and city staff will also pull data from the city’s 2023 Community Survey, conducted in collaboration with the survey science team, Polco. While the survey is designed to gather community sentiment on a wide variety of issues in the city, several questions align with measuring confidence in local government and effectiveness of public participation in government. All community members are encouraged to provide feedback to the city during the open participation survey, which will become available online Oct. 3 – Oct. 17.

Based on the collective findings, the League will make recommendations to the city about innovations to try at City Council meetings. There will be an open community forum in early 2024 for the public to provide feedback on these recommendations.

More information on this national initiative is available on the League’s website. The city has also created a project webpage with more information about how the process will work here in Boulder. City Council Members Matt Benjamin and Rachel Friend were selected by the full council to support staff in this work in the months ahead.

About the National Civic League

The League advances inclusive civic engagement through our community assistance programs, including tools, trainings and facilitation services, our award and recognition programs, and nationally recognized research and publications. We promote efforts that seek to listen to, and to learn from residents in ongoing conversations and leverage those insights to help reshape communities so they will thrive.

The project is being funded by the AAA-ICDR Foundation, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization established to fund projects that promote conflict resolution and prevention in communities across the country and around the world.