Which Types Of Civic Engagement Should Councils Focus On?

There are numerous benefits of the different types of civic engagement, which include increasing trust in the democratic process, fostering a sense of community and the opportunity to hold elected officials accountable for their actions. 

However, the UK government found that levels of engagement in fact dropped between 2020/21 and 2021/22, when 41% and 34% of citizens respectively confirmed they had partaken in at least one form of civic engagement. 

The good news is that councils have the opportunity to reverse this trend and improve their outreach to citizens. However, it is important to be strategic about seeking participation from voters. Not all engagement methods will work in each location, so you should look into what the different forms entail and the benefits they provide in order to focus your activities most efficiently.

This article explores types of civic engagement and how councils can go about implementing them. 

Importance of citizen involvement in local governments

Local government is responsible for decisions that directly affect the day-to-day lives of citizens, from their waste collections to the roads they drive on and the planning process for their communities. As such, the more detached they feel from the decision-making process, the less trust they will have in the reasoning of elected officials and the less they are likely to buy into the other elements of the council’s work. 

In the UK, the Local Government Association found that 69% of citizens thought it was important that they have the ability to influence decisions in their community. 

Furthermore, citizens are the people on the ground, who understand the real problems and their causes. It is extremely challenging for council members to have insight over the issues in every section of the area they cover, so the public is an essential resource to inform them of situations and what the community needs to overcome them.  

Types of civic engagement

Voting and elections

The very basis of civic engagement in democracy is the act of voting. Local elections provide citizens with the opportunity to choose those who will represent them and their interests within the council. Even if they engage no further with the work of the council, having a say over who does make decisions is important. 

However, research by the UK government shows that voter turnout is notoriously low for local elections. In 2021, the percentage of the electorate who voted in various types of local elections was:

  • 34.3% for unitary council elections
  • 36.3% for county council elections
  • 34.2% for metropolitan elections
  • 37.1% for district council elections

This suggests that councils must find methods to encourage voters to turn up and to improve public participation. This could include improving accessibility to polling stations, offering incentives to voters and sending reminders to citizens ahead of time, stating the date of the election. 

Public consultations

Engagement does not end with gaining the votes of your electorate. To promote better engagement, the council can continue its policy of two-way communication throughout the year by hosting public consultation meetings

These can take a number of different forms: 

  • Town hall meetings
  • Public forums
  • Planning meetings
  • Community forums

These provide a platform for citizens to hear the arguments put forward by the council on a variety of issues. It also allows the public to ask further questions to improve their understanding of the matters, have their say on them and challenge the proposed measures if they disagree with them. 

This provides vital feedback for the council and alternative views that members might not have previously considered, as well as showing citizens that their opinions are valued and giving them agency over decisions made in their local area. 

Active participation

The next step from consulting with the public is having members of the community represented within the council. 

This means bringing in citizens to sit on bodies such as an advisory committee. This is possible in the UK because the Local Government Act 1972 states that members do not have to be members of the authority. 

These committees can bring in a range of diverse voices with knowledge of the matters at hand to work with elected officials to create policies in the best interests of the community. 

Another example of civic engagement is creating groups of citizens. This type of deliberative engagement includes citizen juries or panels that receive information from the council on a specific topic, discuss it in depth and then provide their recommendations. 

Information sharing

Transparency is key to better civic participation. And one way to facilitate this openness is to create a process for distributing important information. Where voters cannot find out details of the council’s actions or where the government body implements policies without informing the electorate, it can lead to suspicions about their intent. In addition, if the council is providing activities for the community, it is a waste of resources not to spread the word effectively. 

The obvious route to information sharing in the modern world is through the council’s social media channels. Ensure you have someone in charge of your social media who understands how to make visually appealing and informative posts that gain traction. 

Other vital information-sharing procedures include the council website, newsletters, posters and collaborations with local media outlets to ensure your press releases are broadcast as far as possible. 


When designing services or devising projects, a method of civic engagement that councils can utilise is to invite citizens, local businesses or community groups to participate. This allows those who will be directly affected to have a say over how it is implemented and provides ownership of the decisions taken in development. 

These collaborative methods leverage the skills, knowledge and resources of stakeholders in the area to create solutions that do not just tick a box but also address the issue at hand with precision. They help citizens take steps to improve the quality of life in the area. 

If your council has not taken part in such collaborations yet, it is best to take time to build relationships. You can start with smaller projects to gain insight into how they work, what challenges arise and whether the collaborator is able to provide the benefits that you desire. 

Digital engagement

Digital engagement is a method that speaks directly to constituents in the space that they frequent on a daily basis – the online world. It breaks down barriers between the government body and its electorate and provides easy two-way communication. 

A council can engage citizens online through methods including:

  • Online forums where they pitch for ideas, suggestions and comments
  • Social media interactions with citizens
  • Digital surveys and polls to garner opinions on council matters
  • E-voting on local issues without the expense of setting up physical voting opportunities
  • Online service request forms that citizens can submit, rather than attempting to get through on busy phone lines
  • Streaming council meetings so that more residents can attend and see the workings of the council
  • Using a local government meeting portal like iBabs to publish online voting records of the council members so voters can understand their views and sympathetic causes. 

Digital engagement can be an effective method of canvassing opinions from a diverse range of voices. It is also essential that councils do everything they can to ensure digital accessibility for all citizens so that no one is left out. 

Educational programmes

Councils should be proactive in helping citizens understand the way that local governance works. Armed with this knowledge, people can better engage with the work of the council and gain insight into why decisions are made in the way they are. 

Offer workshops and seminars to the public so that they can find out more about the way the council works. Provide educational materials on your website or in council buildings that citizens can access in order to improve their knowledge about local governance. 


One method of empowering the electorate is to give the public the authority to make decisions on certain council issues. This public participation allows citizens to take ownership of these matters and feel more bonded to the work of the council. 

In some cases, the council will hand over services to be run by the community, such as libraries, for example. Another method is to implement participatory budgeting, where the electorate decides how a portion of the budget is allocated. 

Methods for citizen engagement

Surveys and questionnaires Produce physical or digital surveys and questionnaires to allow citizens to provide feedback at their convenience. This method does not put them on the spot but allows them to go away and think about a measured response. It helps gauge public opinion, understand community needs and source suggestions for solutions to issues in the area. 
Social media platformsSocial media is a direct line to the electorate, where you can share information, request feedback and engage with the electorate. The potential reach, powered by hashtags, location tags and strategic involvement of local influencers makes this an effective method for civic engagement. 
Website and blogsCreare SEO-focused local content that answers the problems of local residents. This makes your website a vital resource that citizens will turn to when they need to find information about issues in their community. List events, policy updates, helpful information and important documents here to engage citizens. You can also stream your meetings on your website for added transparency
Community liaisonsCreate a conduit between the council and the voters by appointing community liaison officers who can spend time in their areas canvassing opinions to bring to the table. They can also be present to explain council decisions to the community if necessary. 
Media outreachTo improve public participation, you should build relationships with local TV, radio and newspapers. This allows you to pass on stories and information that you need to disseminate, as well as getting councillors to speak or write directly to the public. 


How can technology enhance citizen participation?

Technology broadens access to information, facilitates easier communication with officials and allows for wider participation in digital platforms, such as e-governance. You can stream meetings to increase public attendance and provide insightful information such as attendance records of members and their voting history. 

What are the common barriers to citizen engagement and how can they be overcome?

Common barriers include lack of awareness, accessibility issues and distrust in the system. Overcoming these involves improving education on civic matters, ensuring inclusive access and fostering transparency and trust in governance. When there is accountability for actions, the public knows that they can trust the system and will engage more fully. 

How do government-led initiatives encourage citizen participation?

Public participation initiatives, like consultations and advisory boards, invite direct input from citizens, making the decision-making process more inclusive and reflective of public needs.


There is a wide range of types of civic engagement that can benefit your council and help you to bring citizens together. These methods help improve transparency and trust in the council’s work and provide a direct line for the electorate to collaborate with members and make the community a better place. 

To improve your digital engagement of citizens, use iBabs’ meeting platform. It can stream your proceedings to citizens, allowing them to see how the process works. In addition, you can publish meeting materials to your website, allowing users to see important information and display voting records. The platform makes it simple to organise council meetings and enables members to collaborate before meetings, improving preparation. Request a demo of iBabs for your council today. 

References and further reading

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