Engagement Modalities

There is no shortage of strategies for creating effective co-production processes in government. The goal is to find the right technology and method that creates a communication system that both enables voices and facilitates listening. Below is a number of engagement modalities you can consider deploying. Each has its own affordances and weaknesses and is best applied in specific circumstances. When designing public engagement processes, it is important to understand a range of possible methods and choose the one that is most appropriate to help you reach your destination.

Data Literacy

The skills and knowledge needed to use and access data to enable inclusive public engagement. Government can take an active role as an aggregator of big data in supporting an informed citizenry. Creating data visualizations, opening data sets, and facilitating data literacy workshops are all ways government can engage through information-sharing.

Data Therapy

Researcher Rahul Bhargava supports community organizations in data visualization and presentation through workshops, webinars, and writing for creative data stories.

City Digits: Local Lotto

In 2013, high school STEM students investigated the social implications of state lotteries by interviewing their neighbors, analyzing citywide data, and using their findings to weigh the inequalities and benefits of the system

Design Thinking

Design-thinking is a participatory, and problem-based approach involving experimentation and testing.Cities can plan a variety of creative engagement activities that encourage ideation, such as design charrettes, game play, art festivals, and hackathons or design days.

The Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP)

Participants select budget delegates who are tasked with researching community needs and submitting community project proposals for residents to vote on. More than $80 million have been allocated through this process on capitol city projects in over 10 cities.

The Market Street Prototyping Festival

In response to feedback from citizens for a more vibrant and positive experience on Market Street, San Francisco organizes an annual festival for interactive artistic installations that are used to reimagine public spaces.


Face-to-face methods are opportunities for meaningful learning, connection, and dialogue to build trust and relationships.Face-to-face methods include town hall meetings, community workshops, ambassador programs, leadership trainings, community liaison opportunities, steering committees, clubs, affinity groups, and many more.

Marketplace Nights

Marketplace nights have a ritualized structure for neighborhood exchange circles facilitated by Bill Trayvnor. Participants can make offers, requests, or announcements to broker exchanges. Advice, gifts, and favors are frequently shared. Popular, regular marketplace nights have seen the exchange of thousands of dollars worth of valuable stuff, information, advice, tips, wisdom and favors.

Online Deliberation

Deliberation is a generative exchange of ideas that can occur in digital spaces such as forums, platforms, and apps. City governments can invest in digital engagement strategies that allow for (cont'd) meaningful conversations to occur. These tactics include virtual townhalls, Twitter chats, and social media campaigns as well as polls.

Next Door

Next Door is a social network for neighborhoods to share local announcements and requests.

Community Plan It

Community Plan It is an online deliberation game focused on community planning. Over the course of a month, participants answer trivia and discussion questions while communicating through a forum to debate planning ideas and compete for prizes.


Play is any activity where the means are more valuable than the ends. Play suggests discovery, learning, and exploration. Play is not about motivating or incentivizing people to do things, but it’s about providing the space for learning and interaction. Play can be encouraged through games, interactive displays, meme-inspired social media campaigns, among other tactics.

Boston Coastline: Future Past

This interactive art performance that entailed walking through the City of Boston to imagine how climate change will impact the City’s social and physical landscape.

Race to the White House

Over the course of a summer, youth played this treasure-hunt inspired game for civic learning and navigated a specific set of GPS coordinates. Upon attempting to find geocaches (containers) hidden at that locations, youth learned about electoral topics.


A “sensor” can be broadly defined as any node of interaction in an environment that collects data and connects to a network. Governments can explore how to leverage the Internet of Things (IoT) for meaningfully interpreting data from sources such as traffic lights and GPS on municipal busses. For instance, governments can help people deploy sensors for citizen science and hacking projects.

Array of Things

The City of Chicago has launched an initiative of technologies and programs to provide real-time, location-based data about the city’s environment, infrastructure and activity to researchers and the public. It encourages collaborations between experts, researchers, lay people to take specific actions to address urban issues like transportation and climate change.


Any event includes a story. Storytelling is an opportunity to share perspectives, learn from different viewpoints, and consider new ideas. From public rallies to immersive virtual reality documentaries, government can facilitate storytelling to garner and sustain interest in a topic. For any public engagement process, governments should consider face-to-face and online platforms for people to tell their stories.


By enabling people to tell and record stories, Storycorps enlists the activity of storytelling (not the content of the stories) to engage publics. A small percentage of these stories are broadcast on National Public Radio, but Storycorps maintains a much larger archive of stories.

Your Story Goes Here

This online digital media teaching kit is created to help people craft, share, publish and ultimately discuss their stories about cities, places and people - building confidence and capacity for non-professional citizen planners. The framework introduces concepts like physical and critical site audits, effective storytelling through language, keywords, and animation as well as platforms for publishing stories.


18 Learn more about civic media approaches in Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice by Eric Gordon and Paul Mihailidis (MIT Press, 2016) and www.civicmediaproject.org