Sometimes our clients want the next big thing to solve their public involvement challenges. It's understandable: leadership pushes hard to engage the public and historic efforts to reach the public have often been disappointing.
Common Types of Outreach
- Public Hearings
- Neighborhood Meetings
- Online Surveys
- Online Forums
- Social Media
- Farmers Markets
- Text Messaging
For many departments any change in policy or capital expenditure involves some sort of process to engage the public in decision making. From providing an email address, or pulling together a little meeting, these opportunities for engagement often become exceedingly routine.
What we've found is it is likely your agency is already doing a lot of outreach to the public - it is just not being documented well. We've learned that great public engagement involves embracing what you're already doing - from ad-hoc meetings about road resurfacing to the comprehensive plan. Adding new tools is fruitless if there's no way to understand the entire landscape of engagement (is it better than what we've done before) or have the ability to reengage people who have shown interest at other points in a process (allowing you to close the loop.)
In short, the car already exists, we're just not quite sure where its been and where its going.
Understanding this context makes you more able to create an ecosystem of public engagement that meets your agency's specific needs.
What's your foundation?
A client recently told me - "I know there were more people at the meeting, but they didn't speak up and I wasn't sure what they were interested in." For a variety of reasons we can ignore the engagement we're already doing in favor of new tactics that might engage the same people. It's difficult to know, though, because few of these processes are tracked. Where did participants in public workshops over the last year come from?
Are the same people coming or are we reaching new people? Does our knowledge of frequent participants cloud our ability to see new people?
Change is Hard
Technology can be daunting and feel like unnecessary change to employees. Our goal is to meet customers where they are, to help them use technology to simplify their current work and avoid the pain of changing their process or approach to meet the latest fad.
But what is working? Without a common way to understand the overall context of public involvement, staff has difficulty judging any tool or tactic that is implemented. PublicInput.com tries to be relatively neutral on the tactics used to reach participants, but it provides a framework to evaluate and naturally evolve your processes, not abruptly try something brand new.
Not sure where to start? We're happy to do a quick conversation about your current efforts, and how you might be able to better capture that data: