Citizen Participation Program

The essence of what a citizen participation program (CPP) does is simple: it allows citizens to have a greater say in city government decision-making and priority setting, and it gives government officials an effective means for communicating with the people. It also creates a structured setting for businesses and neighborhoods to have productive conversations.  Ultimately, a CPP is a vehicle for each individual citizen to have a direct impact on the policies and actions of city government.

A citizen participation program does not replace existing aspects of government, or change the way city government conducts its business. Nor does it replace existing neighborhood associations or community groups; in fact, it works very closely with them. It simply offers an additional tool for citizens, business people and city officials to communicate with each other and work together.

Citizen participation has been around for thousands of years: this Roman Republic coin from circa 200 BC shows a citizen casting a vote.

The intent of a CPP is for citizens to be aware of the activities of government before they occur, and to be an integral part of the decision-making process. Instead of having citizens overflowing City Council chambers distressed about a proposed development or reacting to a project after it has been implemented, citizens will be aware of proposals in their early planning stages and will be in a position to provide input on decisions that directly affect their neighborhoods and the city. Business owners and developers will know with whom they should discuss their projects with in each neighborhood, enabling better collaboration and successful developments. Citizens will also be able to proactively assess neighborhood needs and assets, and generate their own proposals and projects. In turn, government officials charged with making important decisions will have a much better feel for what the views and preferences of the people are before they take action.

The original call for a citizen participation program in New Orleans comes from the “New Century New Orleans” document, created by a citizen group in 1992. This desire was strongly restated in the UNOP final version in January 2007, and mandated by the November 2008 amendment to the New Orleans City Charter. Citizen participation is also mandated by Chapter 15 of the New Orleans Master Plan.

CBNO began working to develop a New Orleans CPP in 2003, and has made this project the organization’s top priority in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Working with a broad coalition of partners, including neighborhood, community, faith-based and business groups, CBNO has made hundreds of public presentations about the CPP concept, to thousands of citizens across the full geographic and demographic spectrum of New Orleans.

The New Orleans Citizen Participation Project worked closely with residents of New Orleans in the design process of the 2009 Draft Model of Citizen Participation. Besides attending dozens of community meetings to speak with citizens, NOLA-CPP hosted two citywide gatherings of local residents to discuss and define citizen participation. The first, a Citizen Participation Summit held in July 2008, drew nearly 200 participants into a two-day dialogue about formal citizen participation. Following the Summit came a period of detailed and diverse conversations with city government, citizen-led discussion teams, various community groups, and individual citizens. These open discussions and debates focused on what citizen participation is, who participates, and how participation should work.

These conversations culminated in a new draft model CPP that we feel best represents the diversity of our city. This model is truly groundbreaking in that – unlike any previous CPP model nationwide – it goes beyond the purely geographic construct to include “communities of interest”.  Communities of interest can include faith organizations, business organizations, issue-focused organizations, affinity groups like seniors or Latinos, and any other group with a coherent focus.  Communities of interest not only provide an entirely new avenue for citizens to participate in the CPP, they can also serve as invaluable resources to neighborhoods.

Interestingly, as several cities with established CPPs conduct reviews of their systems, the failure to include these communities of interest is being recognized as a significant shortcoming, and the new trend nationally is to work towards incorporating them into the system. The new New Orleans model, however, is the first to propose a methodology for doing this.

CBNO submitted the community-designed NOLA-CPP model to the New Orleans City Planning Commission in September of 2010.  In July 2012, the first major piece of it was adopted by the Planning Commission:  the so-called “Early Notification System” that requires projects and proposals from both government and the private sector to be introduced to residents, neighborhood groups and other stakeholders in the area they will impact prior to the beginning of the permitting process.  This is the foundation upon which all the rest of the program is built, and thus is a major step forward.  Assuming it is implemented effectively, it should be the end of the much-maligned “planning by surprise” that has plagued New Orleans for decades.

As part of moving the overall NOLA-CPP forward, CBNO has launched three specific pilot projects:

  • District Council pilot project, working with the Gentilly Civic Improvement Association, demonstrating how this second tier of the NOLA-CPP structure serves and empowers individual neighborhoods.
  • Latino Community of Interest pilot project, working with Puentes New Orleans, demonstrating methodologies for organizing within underrepresented communities; for improving their access to government services, economic opportunity, additional resources, and improved resiliency; and for connecting Latino residents to their neighborhoods and other community structures.
  • Housing Community of Interest, working with the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance, demonstrating how individuals and organizations can collaborate around a particular issue and how they can in turn be a resource to neighborhoods.

More information on these projects can be found by clicking on the link below.

The citizen engagement and energy that emerged in New Orleans post-Katrina has been a profound force in the city’s recovery and revitalization. Formalizing this in a way that strengthens and sustains it far into the future is a vitally important component of rebuilding New Orleans as one of the world’s great cities.  CBNO is completely committed to seeing the NOLA-CPP fully adopted and implemented.

Additional information is available via a series of white papers (some available in Spanish); these may be found at the project website.

To receive additional information and regular updates, email CBNO at info@cbno.org.