Marc Ott, Executive Director of the International City/County Management Association, is a member of the Engaged Cities Award review committee. As part of an ongoing series, we asked him a few questions about the award and his own work.



As you know, the Engaged Cities Award aims to find and elevate some of the most successful and diverse ways that city leaders are actively engaging their citizens to solve critical public problems. Why do you think a recognition program like this is important?

To solve the complex problems facing communities around the world today, it’s essential that we seek a diversity of opinions. Only by including people that may have been kept out of the discussion in the past can we identify truly innovative approaches. That’s why this award is so important and we’re happy to be a strong partner with Cities of Service. The cities that participate and the ultimate prize winners shine a light on the importance of this paradigm shift.

It’s at the local government level where peer-to-peer and citizen-to-citizen exchanges happen and where truly new ideas are evolving.

What are you working on now that would be interesting to people who care about helping citizens and cities collaborate to solve public problems?

ICMA is committed to serving as the worldwide learning organization for local government leaders and citizen engagement training is a big part of that commitment. Programs like Local Government 101 and our Senior Leadership Institutes feature best practices in citizen engagement and inclusion strategies. We have developed resources and toolkits on building effective citizen engagement programs that are accessed by our members and other local government leaders around the world. Beyond that, we are investing in ways to bring innovation to local government through access to data and data transparency. ICMA is an organization whose roots are in transparency and we believe empowering local governments to use and share their data with their residents more effectively will be transformative.

Can you tell us an anecdote from your own work with ICMA or as city manager of Austin that illustrates why collaboration between citizens and cities to solve problem is so important?

I can recount hundreds of stories from my time as city manager of Austin when our citizens came together to solve problems—the entire strategic plan for the City of Austin was developed through collaboration with all segments of the city’s residents. Here at ICMA, through our International development work, hundreds of our members teach and learn in places far from their own communities. These programs not only change the lives of those interacting, but often infuse new ideas and energy into whole communities on both sides of the exchange. As national governments continue to be blocked by diplomatic and political challenges, it’s at the local government level where peer-to-peer and citizen-to-citizen exchanges happen and where truly new ideas are evolving.