Increasing the level of public impact in 5 simple steps
Regardless of the innovative approaches and technologies you are using to engage the public, setting expectations is critical. The session, “Expectations for Public Participation – How to Bridge the Gap,” addressed this issue. One of the speakers on the panel, Lewis Michaelson, vice president & managing director, Katz & Assoc., said it best, “the real currency of public participation isn’t process; it’s influence.”
In an American democracy, it is expected, regardless of technical limitations, that the public be involved in decisions that directly affect them. Without public support, plans become subject to singular criticism and can be stopped in their tracks for sometimes preposterous reasons. Public support makes the public part of the decision and thus less susceptible to derision.
Here are some important steps covered during this session that opened my eyes to the various stages of public participation and public influence:
Provide the public with balanced and objective information on problems, alternatives, and solutions. This is done through websites, factsheets, open houses, etc.
Gather public feedback on ideas, plans, and analyses. This has been traditionally achieved through public meetings, surveys, and focus groups, but there is a new rise in collecting this data online. In fact, this is one of the top reasons why PIO’s are starting to adopt Granicus SpeakUp℠, to consult the public on what projects and initaitives they should pursue – it uses crowdsourcing or “citizensroucing” to identify the top community priorities.
Work directly with the public throughout the entire process to ensure that their needs, desires, and aspirations are consistently understood and considered. This can be done through workshops, deliberative polling, and again, through online public engagement systems. Like I mentioned above, text polling and online commenting systems can be designed to directly involve citizens in the public process (like the Granicus Citizen Participation Suite) are becoming increasingly popular in the government space.
Partner with the public in each aspect of the decision, including the development of alternatives, as well as identifying the overall preferred solution. This can be done through consensus building, citizen advisory committees, and both traditional and nextgen participatory planning.
Place the final decision making in the hands of the public! This is about as win-win as it gets for all the obvious reasons. This is done through citizen ballots, citizen juries, and delegated decision making.
For the public, it’s always about the outcome. If the public is involved early and had influence on the process, the participants get a sense of achievement and ownership.
Public engagement, while it seems a lessening of leadership, is in fact, the exact opposite. Public engagement is what this country was built on and it is what the citizens demand. Keeping sight of that is succeeding as a PIO.
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