The end of 2011 finds the New Orleans Citizen Participation Project (CPP) experiencing a mix of frustration and optimism. The frustration comes because the indications at the beginning of the year were that New Orleans city government was going to adopt the CPP sometime this past summer and we could move into full implementation; unfortunately, a difference of viewpoints among several key city government entities pushed this timetable far back. This apparently is the nature of systemic change, much of which by defnition has to include government and therefore politics, and requires so many different actors to get on to the same stage (and page!).
The optimism comes because the final quarter of the year saw considerable activity on parts of the CPP within city government and growing support in new communities and sectors within New Orleans.
Specifically, the city's Neighborhood Engagement Office, which was created in spring 2011 and whose inception was a major factor in the CPP delays, conducted an initial process for developing policies and procedures for city government agencies and departments to use citizen input in their decision-making. While this does nothing to empower the community to provide this input, it is nonetheless a very important step. For one, it demonstrates strong recognition on the part of city government that it should pay far more attention to community voices; for two, it begins creating a culture within the individual segments of government of valuing, using, and being accountable to citizen input.
On the heels of this, the City Planning Commission CPC) has just launched a similar process specific to its own operations. This agency probably interacts more with citizens, and therefore needs more citizen input, than any other within the administrative branch. Further, CPC staff is very aware of CBNO's work on the external CPP, and has supported and indeed contributed to the work. At the public kickoff meeting for this process, dozens of citizens came out and advocated for including the external CPP with the internal procedure design work. Both the Chair of the Planning Commission and the Executive Director have agreed to meet after the first of the year to discuss possible collaboration on these issues. It helps greatly that the New Orleans City Council, in the city budget it adopted December 1, included funding in the Planning Commission budget specifically for a "community participation program", which Council members have confirmed to us is intended for the external component.
While all of this went on within City Hall, CBNO worked with various community groups to continue pilot program projects to refine the New Orleans CPP model and demonstrate to city government the value of the CPP. Specifically, partners included the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association, a collection of neighborhood associations within the city's sixth planning district, demonstrating the District Council component of the CPP. CBNO also worked with the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance on the Housing Community of Interest pilot and with Puentes New Orleans on the Latino Community of Interest pilot. The Communities of Interest are a groundbreaking new approach to expanding citizen participation programs to include residents who do not typically participate in their neighborhood groups, and the work this year amply demonstrated both the need to be more inclusive and the potential of this approach to achieve this critical objective.
While the overall results this year fell short of hopes, we always prefer to aim high, push hard and see how far we get. With an initial draft of internal city hall policies and procedures for working with citizen input in the mayor's hands for review, tangible progress was made on the government side. The pilot projects provided both valuable insights on how to continue refining the New Orleans CPP model and great demonstrations of why each of the pilot components is integral to this model. In the year ahead, we hope to maximize the opportunity to work with the City Planning Commission to meld the internal and external components, and ideally to bring the final, full-fledged model to the City Council for adoption. As always, we appreciate greatly the support of those who stick with us as this highly challenging, exceptionally powerful work of creating systemic change and empowering community residents inches forward.