25 05 2010

I am starting to see a growing number of discussions, uses and applications of crowdsourcing as it relates to public participation. I was first introduced to the concept by Daren Brabham, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on how crowdsourcing can be applied to non-profit problem solving. He examined for-profit sites like to see what motivates people to participate and the social reward for participating. Daren was also involved in a pilot study applying crowdsourcing to bus stop design. The winner for the second design competition at has recently been announced.

In the meantime, our friends in the northwest are applying crowdsourcing techniques to address sustainability issues and solicit citizen ideas to improve their city. Folks in the planning realm are finding crowdsourcing a compelling concept, including this firm dedicated to crowdsourced placemaking.

Crowdsourcing holds a lot of potential for active on-line communities. It relies on virtual communities brought together by an interest or topic. Without the virtual community, there is no compelling story to tell. However, the whole idea is to seek ideas from a multitude of people. The trick is to gain traction with a group of people who know you exist and facilitate this kind of problem-solving.

The beautiful thing about crowdsourcing is that not only do the ideas come from the “crowd,” but the solution can also be chosen by the crowd. You have immediate buy-in from a group of people who support a particular solution. Most government decision-making processes can’t fully turn over an idea to the populace, but there is still something to be learned here regarding the quality of input when people believe they are being listened to and truly making a difference in their lives and the lives of others.


Planning tips for public meetings

18 05 2010

Anyone who has planned a public meeting knows the care taken to find an appropriate location and develop a plan for how to set up the room. From way-finding signs and a greeting table to space to sit down to discuss questions and comments, the entire room set-up is designed to facilitate sharing information with participants and answering their questions.

I was reminded of the symbolic power of physical space when I read this article about the closing of the main doors to the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C. The open doors represented the accessibility of justice to the American people. It sent a message that all are welcome to the judicial process. According to this essayist, closing the doors sends a troubling message. Sometimes decisions made for practical reasons have serious implications for public perceptions.

You may not be dealing with the likes of the Supreme Court, but your attention to careful planning of physical space for meetings makes a difference to the people you are engaging! Here are a few steps I take:

  • Visit the site, take pictures and draw a map
  • Have an on-site contact you know to call with any questions or concerns
  • Plan how the room will be set up, including what staff will be located where. This will help ensure that you are not over- or under-staffed as well as give each staff person a specific role and responsibility
  • Hold a prep meeting with staff to review the room set-up and responsibilities. Also review the format and content of the meeting so everyone knows the big picture purpose as well as the details being presented
  • Allow plenty of time for set-up as eager stakeholders often start showing up early

What tips do you have for effective meeting planning? Please comment with some “do’s” and “don’ts” for choosing locations and planning room set-up.

What qualities make a successful P2 person?

11 05 2010

What do you look for in a P2 professional? What characteristics make someone particularly good at public outreach?

I recently came across this list of characteristics for effective speech writers. I particularly like the attention to being a lifelong learner and having natural curiosity. Those qualities translate well to P2.

But what do you expect as a skill set and personality traits for our profession? Here are a few things I look for:

  • Communication skills – effective writing, public speaking, task planning and interpersonal communication are a must
  • Process-orientation – interest in a fair and open process rather than a particular outcome
  • Adaptability – the ability to apply processes and communication techniques to various topics and situations
  • Recognition of constraints – know the parameters with which you are working and convey relevant constraints to stakeholders as part of a fair and open process
  • Commitment – a sense that a good public process contributes to better decisions and better communities

Please leave a comment with the qualities you think are needed to be successful in this field!

Welcome San Joaquin NTI Class!

4 05 2010

What does it take to get you to participate?

Are you lurking in the background, trying to decide whether or not to take part in this blog? Have you read the posts so far, but have not added your voice to the conversation with a comment? Think for a moment about what is holding you back. Is it any different from what may hold back your intended audiences from participating in a process you facilitate … can you learn something from what you are feeling? (Blogs provide opportunity for comments, which is what many P2 processes do as well.)

What prevents people from participating? Here are a few thoughts based on this blogging experiment:

  • Lack of trust – “I don’t know who you are or what you plan to do with the information”
  • Feeling like just another face in the crowd – “This is interesting and all, but I don’t feel like I have anything to add”
  • Not knowing the technology or “how to” participate – “Do I have to log on?”
  • Fear of dissension – “What if I’m wrong, mis-informed, or get attacked for my views?” (ties to our comfort-level and desire to be with like-minded people)
  • No time – “I’d like to contribute thoughtful comments, but my daily must-do list is just too long to give this time”

Now that I’ve covered the negative, what do you have to say that is positive? What steps can P2 folks take to motivate people to participate?