Involving the Public in PolicyMaking

Many departments have aimed to engaged directly with the public on new or revised policies. To do so, a department might think to hold a public meeting about the issue. Or a chief might present a draft policy to his or her advisory board, asking for their opinions.

But in practice it can be difficult to solicit community feedback in a systematic fashion. Well-attended meetings can indicate high community interest, but it can be difficult to discuss specific changes with so many people in the room. Some topics benefit from background knowledge or technical expertise to have a productive conversation. It can be difficult to take comments reflecting lived experience and incorporate them into policies. Community members get frustrated by police departments flatly saying “we can’t do this.”

When should the public be involved in policymaking? The short answer is—when the community asks for it. It generally is most appropriate when the policy that is being written or revised touches on issues that affect a specific interest group or the public at large.

Realistically, however, there comes a point when participation fatigue sets in. Policy engagement requires substantial time and effort. Reviewing too many policies too quickly can lead to burnout (on the part of both the police and the community). So how do you balance the public’s right to participatory government with the risk of participation fatigue? Our “How to Involve the Public in Policymaking: A Guide for Police Departments and City Officials” (one of our many resource guides) offers tips for adapting current engagement efforts to enable improved policy participation.