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William Robertson- Public Participation in Policy Creation and Implementation

William Robertson- Public Participation in Policy Creation and Implementation

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Published by MichaelMWalter
A response and analysis of public participation in policy creation and implementation based on the experiences of William Robertson, Director of the Streets Bureau, City of Los Angeles, California.
A response and analysis of public participation in policy creation and implementation based on the experiences of William Robertson, Director of the Streets Bureau, City of Los Angeles, California.

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Published by: MichaelMWalter on Apr 18, 2010
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01/10/2011

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 William Robertson:
Public Participation in Policy Creation and Implementation
Michael Walter15 April 2010PSAA 634: Public ManagementDr. Scott RobinsonThe George Bush School of Government and Public ServiceTexas A&M University
 
Walter, Michael M.1
Introduction
The area of civic engagement has gone through numerous changes in the past century, from aconfrontational and aggressive method characterized by protests and demonstrations in the 1970s, to moreorganized measures as evidenced by neighborhood councils adopted by major cities in the 1990s (Cooperet. al. 2006, 76-79). The case of William Robertson, director of the Bureau of Street Services for the Cityof Los Angeles provides an example of how agency heads, especially at the municipal level can engagethe public in the decision making processes, and work with neighborhoods to address their concerns.The City of Los Angeles covers over 470 square miles and has over 6,500 miles of streets withinit. The vastness of the city, the varied geography and large area common to municipalities in southernCalifornia already provided significant challenges. In 1999, as a part of a new city charter, neighborhoodcouncils were established throughout the city. Robertson was now compelled to meet with the councils toredress their concerns. Rather than meeting it with contempt and negativity, Robertson used it as a toolby which he could hear the concerns of the citizens and made it part of his strategy to address theproblems his agency was supposed to be solving. His style also contributed to his ability to bring variousgroups with competing interests into consensus. He actively engaged citizens in discussions about theissues within their community, finding solutions in creative ways, and explaining what he can and cannotdo and why, and in doing that, pacified resistance in the short term while long-term situations are found.Robertson’s approach to public comment is unique in that he helps to build a sense of trustbetween his agency and the community, and between the community and himself. His militaryexperience has shown him that leaders need to address the concerns of their followers not simply from atop-down approach, but that they must be on the front lines with them. The descriptions that Cooper andBryer use to describe Robertson’s interactions in the neighborhood meeting formats are indicative of thedeliberative approach style that Cooper, Bryer and Meek describe (2006, 82).
 
William Robertson: Public Participation in Policy Creation and Implementation
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Recommendation
Along with Bryer and Cooper, I agree with the approach Robertson used to address the issues of his constituency and the active participation he had with neighborhood council meetings. Myrecommendation would be to engage communities within the city in a similar deliberative, public, andbalanced discussion between organized community councils and administrative agencies or directors.This would provide an opportunity for actionable deliberative discussion on issues relating to the public.By enhancing public involvement with limited appropriation power, such as Los Angeles did in theRobertson case, you may result in a higher level of administrative response.Public managers who use the deliberative approach can either work within established structures,or they can create mechanisms for deliberative public involvement in policy creation or implementation(Cooper et. al. 2006, 85). Robertson actively responded to the changes with a desire to participate whenother managers from similar agencies viewed the changing structure with “wariness and skepticism… asan initiative that asked department officials to do more without additional funding” (Cooper and Bryer,2010, 89). Not only did Robertson respond to an edict of the new city charter by participating inneighborhood council meetings, he actively sought public input when he created a plan to earmark$100,000 to each of the 87 neighborhood councils to distribute among the divisions of the Bureau of Street Services (Cooper and Bryer, 2010, 91).Robertson may have had a number of options in which to satisfy the public commentrequirement, but he chose to meet the communities in the locations where they already existed, claimingthat “it is important for professionals in government to meet citizens on their own ground to show thatthey care and that they are willing to work with them to solve their problems and respond to theirconcerns” (Cooper and Bryer, 2010, 89). By showing an authentic interest in the needs of thecommunities, he generated an environment of trust between himself and the communities. He did this bystepping into communities and conversations at their level, avoiding technical language, and arrivingwithout prepared remarks behind which to hide. Aside from his active involvement in the meetings, he

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