Sometimes, it might feel like City Council members or local government staff aren’t paying attention to the concerns of residents. They might be too busy or have strict rules that make it difficult to communicate effectively. Other times, the language they use can be too technical or formal, making it hard for residents to understand. There might also be other barriers, like difficulty accessing communication channels, language barriers, or lack of knowledge about how to give feedback.
It’s important for the city government to listen to residents’ concerns and create mechanisms that are easy to use and available to everyone. This can involve simplifying communication, providing different ways for residents to express their concerns, and making sure that Council members and city staff are open, transparent, and responsive.
Here are some ways that the city government can improve listening to residents’ concerns:
- Training and Development: City staff and City Council members can be trained in communication, active listening, and customer service skills, which can help them better understand and address residents’ concerns. This can make them more approachable and friendly when talking to residents.
- Outreach and Education: The city government can actively reach out to residents through different channels, like social media, surveys, websites, and town halls. This can raise awareness about ways to give feedback and encourage residents to voice their concerns.
- Feedback Mechanisms: The city government can make it easy for residents to give feedback by setting up clear and accessible mechanisms, like hotlines or online forms. They can also acknowledge receipt of feedback and provide updates on actions taken, which shows that they are responsive and accountable.
- Inclusion and Diversity: The city government can try to include a diverse range of residents in their decision-making processes, including those from marginalized communities. This can help make sure that different perspectives are taken into account.
- Culture of Customer Service: The city government can encourage a culture that emphasizes listening to residents’ concerns and prioritizing their needs. This can be supported by leadership commitment, training programs, and recognizing staff and members of the City Council who excel in engaging with residents.
Aside from active listening, city government can be more responsive to the concerns of residents by taking several steps, including:
- Simplifying communication: City government staff should communicate in plain language that is easy for residents to understand. This can help avoid misunderstandings and ensure that residents’ concerns are properly heard and addressed.
- Fostering a culture of openness and transparency: City government can foster a culture of openness, transparency, and responsiveness within the organization and the community at large. Staff members and City Council members should be encouraged to listen to residents’ concerns and prioritize their needs (after all, residents voted for them, so it’s not too much to expect).
- Acknowledging receipt of feedback: The city government can acknowledge receipt of feedback and provide clear, transparent updates on actions taken. This demonstrates responsiveness and accountability.
Here are some suggestions for expressing concerns to your local government:
- Identify the specific issue or problem you want to address. Be clear and specific about your concern.
- Find out which department or office is responsible for the issue. This information is usually available on the government website or by calling the city hall.
- Choose the best way to communicate your concern. You can email, call, write a letter, attend a city council meeting, or use an online feedback form.
- When expressing your concern, be polite and respectful. Explain your issue clearly and offer any relevant information or evidence to support your claim.
- Ask for a response. Request a timeline for when you can expect a response or an update on the action being taken to address your concern.
It’s important to be patient and persistent. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and it may take some time for our city’s government to address your concern. But by staying engaged and informed, you can help make a difference in your community. Your voice matters, so don’t hesitate to reach out and share your feedback. The city government can’t improve without the input of residents.
By Daniel Jansenson for SMa.r.t. (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)
Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA, Planning Commissioner; Daniel Jansenson, Architect, Building & Fire-Life Safety Commissioner; Michael Jolly, AIRCRE; Thane Roberts, Architect; Robert H. Taylor, Architect AIA: Sam Tolkin, Architect.