What does civic input look like? For some, it means open dialogue between decision makers and the public. For others, it means access to platforms that can elevate the voices of citizens. One could also suggest that it means broadening the public sphere to increase voices that are traditionally excluded. In a large sense, the idea of civic input directly correlates to a functioning democracy, and the imperative of a governing body to facilitate dialogue amongst engaged residents.
Transparency helps people understand where information or money is coming from, where it is going, and what it is used for.
A common thread amongst all these ideas is that the effectiveness of dialogue relies on transparency. Transparency helps people understand where information or money is coming from, where it is going, and what it is used for. This is not always an easy task. Addressing inequality never is. Policy advocates across Ohio recognize this, and they have been calling for more civic opportunities for organizations, individuals, and stakeholders to get involved with the decision-making process, specifically related to how the state will spend $5.37 Billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. So far, there have not been meaningful opportunities for participation or public input in the state’s process. Considering this discrepancy, I would like to highlight engagement strategies of other states to incorporate civic input in the allocation of ARPA funds. In doing so, I shed light on engagement models that could be useful in the engagement process in Ohio.
Civic input supports a robust exchange of ideas and beliefs around how to best serve communities
The Colorado Strategy
The state of Colorado is receiving $3.8 billion dollars in State Fiscal Recovery Funds from ARPA. Priority investments of the funds include strengthening the workforce, enhancing rural sustainability, and supporting post COVID-19 recovery. From these investments, Colorado’s Department of Health Care Policy, and Financing (HCPF) developed a stakeholder engagement plan outlining how ARPA projects will be communicated to stakeholder groups and the public. Engagement strategies will range from newsletters, quarterly stakeholder webinars, surveys, and regular updates on the HCPF webpage. In addition to this, the webpage also has a list of grant opportunities, a detailed spending plan across issue areas, webinars, newsletters, articles, blog posts, and job opportunities funded by ARPA. HCPF also has a monthly calendar filled with events by topic that extends to the end of the year.
What Ohio can Learn from Colorado: Centralization
The engagement strategies of Colorado’s HCPF provide specific information on the funds flowing into Colorado. This includes information on issues that are prioritized in the spending process and a general timeline for how ARPA funds will be used. Ohio decision makers should not just consider providing general information on what the money is spent on, but why the decision was made and how it will make an impact. Ohio departments could have information on potential grants on a centralized webpage. This could make the application process easier and more centralized for people to access. Recently, Advocates for Ohio’s Future and the Ohio Poverty Law Center released the AOF and Ohio Poverty Law Center ARPA Tracker. Tools like this are useful to gain insight into how Ohio is spending ARPA funds. The efficacy of similar resources would be enhanced if the state were also more proactive in their approach to sharing information with the public.
The efficacy of similar resources would be enhanced if the state were also more proactive in their approach to sharing information with the public.
The Alaska Strategy
The state of Alaska is receiving $1 billion dollars in State Fiscal Recovery funds from ARPA. The Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) released a toolkit for Local Educational Agencies (LEA) and State Educational Agencies (SEA) to provide engagement strategies when interacting with students, families, school districts, and teachers. In addition to this information, there is also guidance on how to engage tribal institutions, civil rights organizations, and stakeholders representing children and youth in foster care, homelessness, and other marginalized student populations. DEED also recommends utilizing translation or interpretation services for parents with limited English proficiency. Through these considerations, the cultural needs of students can be accessed. In addition to this toolkit, DEED also provided an Effective Communications for Stakeholder Engagement Checklist to provide an overview of procedures for stakeholder engagement in rural settings. This checklist encourages LEAs and SEAs to consider how critical engagement efforts should center around clear goals and intentionality.
Cultural competency should be a focal point when decision makers engage with communities.
What Ohio can learn from Alaska: cultural competency
Cultural competency should be a focal point when decision makers engage with communities. Culturally informed practices are essential to addressing the diverse economic and socio-cultural landscapes of Ohio. This is observable in the vast health disparities that Ohioans experience. In terms of health and development, Black Americans have poorer outcomes compared to their white counterparts. Ohioans of color also have extremely poor addiction outcomes due to a lack of treatment services and harm reduction initiatives. In Cleveland, racially segregated communities are more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Engagement should therefore be intersectional and centered in inclusion practices to prioritize differences in cultural values so that health disparities can be fully recognized and addressed in the engagement process. In essence, civic input can help address broad disparities in Ohio
Civic input supports a robust exchange of ideas and beliefs around how to best serve communities. It is important that stakeholders have access to spaces that can amplify their voices to produce change in collaboration with decision makers. $5.37 billion dollars flowing into Ohio should also be allocated toward issues that are informed by directly impacted communities. This process should introduce solutions that are designed to address broader disparities present in our state while also improving the livelihood of all people within its borders.