WHAT IS AN OBSERVER PROGRAM?
An observer is an individual who attends a governmental meeting, notes what happens at the meeting, and reports back to the League and (hopefully) the community. By attending public meetings of local governmental bodies/agencies, observers learn more about what their government is doing. They learn about the issues facing their community and are empowered to take action if warranted. They also learn how issues are being addressed.
Observers keep elected and appointed officials on notice; they let them know that someone is watching what decisions are being made and how they are being made. They help ensure that the issues facing their community are being handled “in the sunshine,” in the open.
Ideally, observers are monitoring both the issues being discussed as well as the process by which they are being discussed. While not every item up for discussion will relate to a League’s priorities, ensuring that
the meeting is being conducted in an open and acceptable way is critical to all of the League’s efforts and the health of our democracy.
Observer programs are not vehicles for individuals to work personal or partisan agendas. Observers generally do not “act” on issues in these meetings. Unless serving as a designated spokesperson for the League, observers should not provide commentary or testimony on issues on behalf of the League. Instead, observers attend meetings to gather information. Through the process, their presence encourages better, more transparent government.
Observer programs (or Observer Corps) are a structured way for individuals to exercise their right to know. Organized under the auspices of a grassroots organization (such as the League of Women Voters, which is referenced throughout this publication), they provide a valuable service to the community. They help ensure that citizens are aware of the decisions that impact their lives and they pro- mote government transparency and accountability.
Observer programs benefit the observers, the organization organizing the observer program and the community. The benefits to the individuals and organization are detailed later in this publication, but by looking at how an observer program can benefit the larger community, the program’s range and scope of influence can be better understood. Observer programs benefit the community by:
Creating a civically engaged and empowered cadre of watchdogs;
Connecting individuals (observers and others with whom their observations are shared) with government;
Promoting open, transparent and accountable government;
Connecting elected/appointed officials with their constituents;
Educating the public about issues impacting their communities and their lives; and
Identifying areas where action or improvement is needed.
Taken directly from Observing Your Government in Action: Protecting Your Right to Know. A resource guide from the League of Women Voters published in 2007.