The Rise of the Chief Citizen Officer
It seems so natural, so perfect, for a government to have one. Startlingly, a Google search for this exact phrase yields virtually nothing: a few nondescript links, a presentation on web design with the words on a slide, and a handful of stories in other languages. I found it so ironic that no one in local, regional or federal government would have such a title – especially since Government has been on a real tear lately on Government 2.0 initiatives.
Many would argue that the Mayor of a city is the same as the Chief Citizen Officer. However, the Mayor also manages a lot of other stakeholders: commercial businesses, regional and federal government, non-profit organizations, police departments, as well as all the other departments. A Chief Citizen Officer should only be responsible for the needs of the citizens, and would report to the Mayor. The Chief Citizen Officer would have direct responsibility for the livability of a community and the overall quality of life of its citizens. Things like transportation, education, healthcare, community events, parks and recreation, housing affordability, employment, communications and social media – all these would fall under the domain of the Chief Citizen Officer.
Why would we want a Chief Citizen Officer now? Why hasn’t this been in place previously?
My guess is because most governments have operated as representative democracies, and not as direct democracies. Decision making was left to the councils and implementation was left to the various departments. However, now that social media and online consultation is paving the way for citizens to connect with their governments, many cities may find themselves in need of an administrator to track and report back to the community.
Admittedly, there is some momentum around the idea of a Chief Customer Officer for some bigger governments. But I take exception with the idea of calling a citizen a “customer”. Some citizens have very little resources and are unable to pay tax. Other people may work in the city, but pay taxes elsewhere. Certainly a city’s population base ebbs and flows with the regular workday, and the tax base may fluctuate modestly as a result; inevitably this energy is not something any city can bank on. Cities have always relied on and reported on their populations to secure funding, attract investment, and forecast future resourcing requirements. How they manage their populations will always impact their tax revenues.
The Chief Citizen Officer’s focus would be to formulate strategies to produce meaningful outcomes for citizens that result in higher satisfaction levels and support for increased taxes. They would plan engagement activities with citizens to secure input on things like policy development, long-range planning, capacity building, place management, community relations, decision making, deliberative dialog, and issues management. A great case study can be found here. A local council wanted to increase municipal rates in order to provide better services to residents. To get community buy-in, City Council had to create a community engagement strategy that ensured residents felt their voices were being heard across a range of issues, and that the resulting rates capping changes would be in the community’s best interests. What I am proposing is for a Chief Citizen Officer to routinely act as a conduit between citizens and government – making the process of working together actually easier, better, and more efficient, all the time.
Is it just another “title”?
There’s also some risk in adding too many fancy-schmancy titles to an organization, expressed in this Forbes article. I’d love to call myself Supreme Ruler of the Enterprise, but that sounds a bit too Star Trekky, and it’s also inaccurate. The title should reflect the job responsibilities as well as embody some of the culture of an organisation. At Bang the Table, we’re a flat organization, with a defined reporting structure, but the culture is also one of empowerment. Our Executive Team, often reach out to all of us for our input on policy, procedure, and best practice, and a lot of decision making is left to the individual, too. Further, no one rules over anyone; I like to think mentoring and coaching is genuinely accurate here, and my title is appropriate to my role and responsibilities: Engagement Solutions Manager. I help public participation professionals build better engagement solutions.
The reality is that roles and responsibilities are changing everywhere. Job roles are shifting. Government is evolving. The space of civic technology has grown exponentially over the last few years and the rules governing open government and community action are being rewritten. Just take a look at the following infographic and report that was published by the Knight Foundation a couple of years ago.
Civic technology is taking a lead in how citizens engage their governments. It would follow that a role in government – especially local government – should be at the helm managing these new communications channels. Naturally, engagement involves both online and offline mediums, so the Chief Citizen Officer would need to be versed in both formats.
Governments must evolve to stay relevant
If our government wants to remain relevant to its constituents, new roles and responsibilities need to be defined. There is nowhere more important than at the local level – where citizens and local government engage on a daily basis. We all want to trust our government. We all want to work with our government. The challenge has been navigating government and making heads and tails of the bureaucracy that has been our government for decades. Having a Chief Citizen Officer will actually put a face on government that is approachable. A Chief Citizen Officer will provide citizens with a representative that can be held directly accountable to their needs. Your Chief Citizen Officer will consult regularly and offer democratic solutions to community challenges that are timely, relevant, representative and meaningful. The time for the Chief Citizen Officer is now.
Having a Chief Citizen Officer will actually put a face on government that is approachable. A Chief Citizen Officer will provide citizens with a representative that can be held directly accountable to their needs. Your Chief Citizen Officer will consult regularly and offer democratic solutions to community challenges that are timely, relevant, representative and meaningful. The time for the Chief Citizen Officer is now.
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