In sharp contrast to how government institutions and individual citizens alike managed the notion of community engagement just fifty years ago, the contemporary practice of community engagement is marked by transparency, pathways to government accountability, and ultimately a sense of partnership and collaboration. Creating this open environment requires reforming not only how the public gains information about policy discussions, but ensuring they understand the complexities and inherent tradeoffs baked into the policy-making process.
By tackling public engagement with this lens, the civic participation experiment known as Oregon’s Kitchen Table works to tackle the challenges associated with collaborative governance by maintaining various in-person and digital platforms for connecting policymakers with their constituents and promoting a feedback loop between both parties.
The brainchild of a group of non-partisan, non-profit community organizations, Oregon’s Kitchen Table commits to giving every Oregonian a voice by providing platforms for civilians to consult policymakers, to manage or support civic crowdfunding public projects, and to provide loans to small businesses. Its website serves as a singular point for these projects, using basic technological tools such as online forums, fundraising widgets, and hyperlinks to crowd-funding sites that citizens of nearly all technological competencies can access.
Oregon’s Kitchen Table is a positive model for how to leverage technology to reform community engagement because the Internet is the only tool needed to access the site – the open website can be accessed by any Internet-connected device, doesn’t require citizens to pay to access its resources, and it advertises in-person engagement opportunities for those who do not wish to participate digitally. Though not necessarily “innovative” in its approach, its commitment to connecting citizens to government in simplistic terms is a refreshing way for the experiment to focus on the quality and content of civic engagement rather that isn’t bound to complex technology.