For a Strong Town, the goals of public engagement must be to:
- Understand the priorities, needs, and struggles of the community.
- Present ideas to the community in a timely and meaningful manner.
- Receive authentic feedback from a representative cross section of the community.
The ideal approach is an ongoing process of localized engagement, where public action is based on the observed struggles of people, is scaled to be the next increment of change and intensity, and where the observed reaction of those most affected is used to measure success and inform future action. Jane Jacobs called such a process process "co-creation," where citizens, through their actions, shape the direction of their own community.
Common public engagement approaches, especially those mandated as part of a development application or environmental review processes, tend to be overly bureaucratic, using formality of process to affirm government decisions rather than as a mechanism to engage the public and incorporate feedback. They were established in response to a history of heavy-handed government action and still are often used as a substitute for meaningful engagement.
For large decisions, the principle of subsidiarity should govern—where the smallest, lowest, or least centralized competent authority should make the decision, with larger and more centralized authorities providing assistance, where helpful.
When decisions for the whole are to be made by a few, citizen juries chosen by random sample of a population provide a better representation of the public than appointed commissions or other stakeholder bodies.