Across the world, community engagement practitioners applauded when the Biden administration ushered in a new era with the launch of its groundbreaking guidance on public participation and community engagement practices in the USA.
"Broadening Public Participation and Community Engagement in the Regulatory Process" was released by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in July 2023. This guidance marks a big shift from the traditionally opaque nature of regulatory processes, and advocates for a multi-pronged community engagement strategy that prioritises the public interest over corporate special interests.
The changes proposed in the guidance are set to redefine the game for community engagement practitioners in the USA, offering them an unprecedented opportunity to reshape the regulatory landscape through an innovative community engagement strategy. While the guidance is not binding, it is expected to be taken seriously.
This opens the door for government agencies to engage with the public in significant and imaginative ways.
A transparent shift in approach
Historically, OIRA has been perceived as a "black box," but this new guidance demonstrates transparency in its plans to enhance the regulatory process for the community engagement strategies of federal agencies. The focus is on making the rule-making process more accessible, particularly to members of under-served communities, people with disabilities, and those with limited English proficiency.
Key directives for community engagement
The guidance directs federal agencies to employ various tactics to promote public participation and community engagement in the regulatory process. Some of the key directives include:
1. Local engagement sessions
Encouraging agencies to work with local organisations for listening sessions, ensuring direct input from impacted communities.
2. Accessible communication
Emphasising the use of plain language summaries, infographics, or short videos through social media or traditional outlets to raise awareness, especially among regional or ethnic communities. Translating materials into multiple languages and providing accessible formats is also highlighted.
3. Inclusive online sessions
Holding online or technology-enabled listening sessions during the formulation of regulatory priorities to reach individuals who may face barriers to attending in-person sessions.
4. Multilingual considerations
Advising agencies to consider making sessions multilingual and accessible, recognising the diverse linguistic landscape of the American public.
5. Accessibility review
Proactively reviewing the accessibility of events and outreach efforts, including inviting feedback from disability organisations to ensure inclusivity.
Strengthening democracy through participation
The guidance underscores the importance of public participation in strengthening regulations and deepening the democratic promise of the regulatory system. By broadening engagement and involving diverse voices, agencies have the potential to produce more responsive, effective, durable, and equitable regulations as part of their community engagement strategy.
While the guidance sets an optimistic tone, its success hinges on how well it's utilised by agencies. Recognising this, OIRA plans to organise a follow-up listening session in approximately twelve months to gather public feedback on the implementation of the guidance and identify opportunities for improvement.
This commitment to ongoing engagement and evaluation highlights the administration's dedication to ensuring the effectiveness of these transformative changes.
The Biden administration's new guidance marks a pivotal moment for community engagement practitioners, offering them a chance to be catalysts for change in the regulatory landscape through enhanced community engagement strategies. As agencies embrace these directives, the potential for a more inclusive, transparent, and participatory democracy becomes not just a goal but a tangible reality.
The journey toward a more engaged and empowered society has been accelerated by these changes, and community engagement practitioners are at the forefront of this transformative wave.