International Association for Public Participation – Event Review
This past Wednesday I had the opportunity to attend an event sponsored by the International Association for Public Participation. The event was titled High Tech High Touch: Using Technology for Effective Engagement Online and Offline. Right up Civinomics’ alley! Two speakers presented at the event, Amelia Loye from the Australia based Engaged2, and Darin Dinsmore from the outreach consultancy Crowdbrite.
There were a number of good take-aways from the event. Loye discussed how important it is to make the information gathered at public meetings usable. Often with civic engagement processes there is a flood of sticky notes, emails, and other data. The challenge becomes how to organize all of this information. Technology plays a major role in sorting and categorizing all of the input.
One of her main points (and one that warmed my Civinomics heart) was how successful conducting tablet-based outreach polling had been for the projects she’s worked on. In addition to all the data gathering efficiencies that come with it – no need for manual tabulating – she mentioned how people appreciated the experience of having the engagement process brought to them, as well as the feeling that their input was going somewhere; they could see their responses being uploaded and felt assured that what they said would be considered.
Dinsmore spoke about the need to have participation processes that are efficient, noting how all too often public engagement processes drag on over the course of months and oftentimes result in no decision actually being made.
He also talked about the importance of preventing meeting derailment – that is, when people come who are only interested in hijacking the process and stopping progress. He told a story of how at one of the meetings he’d organized a hardline group suddenly showed up, intent on bulldozing the process. Thankfully, the members of the public stood up against them saying that they were proud of the work they had done and that this wasn’t just some publicity stunt put on by the government to go through the motions of civic engagement.
Though that can sometimes be the case, he pointed out. San Diego, for instance, once put out a $20 million request for proposals that, on the surface, looked like it was going towards organizing public hearings on a new development. However, the official bid was labeled as a “marketing” project – an immediate red flag to Dinsmore, since marketing implies that the decision for what to do had already been made and that they were now just looking for a firm to help sell the public on it.
After the talks followed a Q&A session. An attendee sitting to my left asked something that had been on my mind as well, “How can you effectively educate the public on an issue so that they feel comfortable weighing in on it?”
Both responded that there were a number off methods to accomplish this. Loye talked about having participants read material before weighing in on the issue, either offline or online. There could also be comprehension checks along the way to make sure the respondent had understood the information provided. Dinsmore talked about the possibility of having issue experts available through teleconference to answer questions people ask.
So it was good to hear about the engagement experiences of other professionals in the field. I came away both feeling hopeful about the possibility of citizen involvement in public policy and looking forward to Civinomics’ own upcoming engagement events.