Direct Democracy in Action: Comparing Citizen Engagement efforts across the Urban-Rural Spectrum in Michigan

May 2021
Christian Hunter

In American society, citizen engagement is a manifestation of direct democracy at the local government level. Engaging citizens in their community can have positive effects on jurisdictions where it is pursued, but the process can also come with its own set of challenges. Given the current cultural divide between urban and rural areas, this paper seeks to understand the similarities and differences in citizen engagement across the rural-urban spectrum. In particular, this paper compares how rural and urban jurisdictions view current citizen engagement participation, the use of formal vs. informal methods for engagement, and the views on what citizen engagement is for. Findings indicate that current participation trends are similar in both rural and urban areas, but the methods and views of citizen engagement yield more mixed results.

Key findings

  • Participation rates in citizen engagement activities, including who participated, were fairly consistent in both rural and urban areas.
  • When it came to using formal or informal methods for citizen engagement, urban areas were more likely to use formal engagement methods than rural areas, but both rural and urban areas used informal methods.
  • When asked to define citizen engagement, respondents in both rural and urban areas agreed on what those at the governing board level would think citizen participation is for, but had different responses when it came to what employees would think.