The city will test collaborative best practices in official public meetings.

Project Overview

The city is partnering with the National Civic League (League) Center for Democracy Innovation on the ‘Better Public Meetings’ project. 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 is specifically on improving processes in City Council meetings.

Better public meetings are possible, sustainable and measurable. By creating a localized strategy, the city is working with the League to design an inclusive and collaborative formal process with the public.

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.

Research Design

There are two main components of the project’s research design:

  • Civic Engagement Scorecard: This tool featured a quantitative rating system for community members who were participating to provide feedback on the civic health of public meetings. The online scorecard was available during all City Council meetings Sept. 7 through Dec. 7, 2023. Community members were encouraged to provide feedback based on their experiences at these meetings.
  • Civic Infrastructure Scan: This feedback mechanism consisted of qualitative interviews with community members who were involved in various capacities with public meetings, including local leaders and members of non-profit organizations.

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

Key Findings

Four themes emerged:

  1. Being Heard and Transparency in Decision-Making
  2. Interactions with Elected Officials at Council Meetings and Public Comment
  3. Equity and Engagement
  4. Boards, Working Groups, and Sub-Committees

Based on these collective findings, the League made recommendations to the city about innovations to try at City Council meetings. The full report of research findings and League recommendations can be found on the National Civic League website.

There was an open community forum in Feb. 2024 for the public to provide feedback on these recommendations. Overall, the city heard a desire from the community for more opportunities to collaborate with elected public officials and a clearer connection between how community feedback is incorporated in council decisions.

Recommendations / Next steps

  • Continue Council Chats, Walks and Rolls to provide more opportunity for small group conversations and deliberation.
  • Consider a Community Study Session pilot to increase opportunities for meaningful engagement and strengthen decision-making process by hearing diverse community perspectives from individuals and organizations who share valuable input with council that may shape projects and outcomes.
  • Host a Council meeting outside of Council Chambers