Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kristiewells/2921614505/#/
As someone who is very interested in public engagement, I try to pay close attention whenever I hear people mention or raise the topic. A lot of people I've been chatting to in my 100 conversation project (65 completed so far!) have said that listening skills are important attributes for a city councillor. People have also shared with me some their issues with public engagement. I would like to list a few of these , with some of my own related thoughts.
- Public Engagement is not Public Agreement: This is a situation in which people criticize any public engagement unless decisionmakers agree with their position. When this happens, it can be very damaging to any future support for other public engagement processes. Good public engagement, in my view, is much less concerned with outcome than it is with a fair, respectful, and inclusive process.
- Anonymous Feedback in Public Engagement Processes is Problematic: To me, its not so much if feedback is anonymous or not, it is more important that the feedback is thoughtful, respectful, well argued, and /or helpful. I agree it is better for building and maintaining a strong community if "everybody knows your name", but also think people can have legitimate reasons why they want to stay anonymous, such as potential loss of friends and/or risks to their employment.
- Citizens have to take some Responsibility to Get Involved: I totally agree with this. I would also say that sometimes citizens need a friendly way to start getting involved. Municipal issues are not always seen as that interesting, or perhaps some people are intimidated or simply feel too stretched to provide input into municipal decision-making. As community leaders we need to ask: "How do we make it as easy possible for citizens to engage with community issues?" "How do we tap the great wisdom in Kamloops?" Thinking about these questions brings to mind my friend Dave Meslin (who is one of Toronto's most celebrated local government activists) and his Ted Talk entitled The Antidote to Apathy.
I am personally very involved in a worldwide community of practitioners who utilize dialogue and deliberation(a gold standard in public engagement, in my view). What is dialogue and deliberation? Some great introductory web pages are hosted by the US based National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation and the Canadian Community for Dialogue and Deliberation.
So, as someone who is very interested in public engagement, I've also tried to learn and gain experience with good practices in this field, ones that have been shown to be effective and inclusive at the same time. Look forward to sharing more of what I think I have learnt in future posts.