How to select public participation methods suited to your goals and situation

Myles Alexander Mug2By Myles Alexander
Community, Natural Resources, and Economic Development Educator
University of Wisconsin-Extension Oneida County
Phone: 715-365-2750

NCDD – goals

Public participation is a part of transparent, good governance. It is true for local government, a business, service agency, civic organization or club.

The City of Tempe offers reason for public participation that translates to other settings.

The City of Tempe values resident input and believes that community members should be engaged early on in decisions that affect them. When done effectively, public involvement fosters cooperation and collaboration among individuals with differing viewpoints to find common ground. Rather than treating involvement as a process of competing interests, it is viewed as a forum where the public learns, forms opinions and preferences, and decides together.

As Bill Rizzo of the UW-Extension Local Government Center summarizes, public participation:
• Leaders understand better of how the public sees issues, their affects and the challenges. Thus, the policies they develop are effective.
• Local governance is more democratic.
• The community’s capacity to explore, understand, and address challenges and opportunities grows.

The first step on the public participation path is to determine what you need to do. There are several ways to think about public participation goals. The first is more about the process. The second is more about the result. Both views are needed.

Members of the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation looked at all types of public deliberation. They identified four basic process goals:

• Explore – People learn about themselves, their community, or an issue. They may come up with innovative ideas.
• Transform Conflict – Individuals or a group improves poor relations or a specific conflict among themselves.
• Make a Decision – Stakeholders make a decision or policy and improve public knowledge about the issue.
• Act Together – People tackle complex problems and take responsibility for solutions they may come up with.

The Engagement Streams Framework presents different types of public conversations appropriate to each goal.

Result goals are about how participation will make a difference. They depend on how involved people will be. Last month I introduced the International Association for Public Participation “Spectrum of Public Participation.” The version in Figure 1 includes a sample of techniques suitable for each goal.

Figure 1


If you feel overwhelmed at this point, you are not alone. The Institute for Local Government surveyed elected and non-elected local government officials across California. They found “in rural communities, local officials report less public participation experience and fewer resources.” That is not a surprise since rural leaders wear more hats than their city counterparts. UW Extension can help bridge the gap.

I bring decades of public engagement experience, connection to UW Extension centers and specialists, and connection to a national network of public participation specialists. For example, if you are a club officer and would like to improve the relationship with members or are a Town supervisor and see a difficult policy decision on the horizon, give me a call.

Finally, for some grass roots public participation, find me at the Minocqua Farmers’ Market on Friday July 8. I’ll be at the end of the row, ready to talk about your vision for Oneida County.

[next topics:
Rural P2 learnings – P2/EconomicDevelopersCouncilOntario2015RuralCommunityEngagementRpt]

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