A few days ago, I had a chance to unravel the pile of sticky notes we collected during a Cardstorming exercise we facilitated at the Upstate APA Conference last month. Andre, Christopher, and I asked a group of about 70 planning professionals to share short descriptions of both bad and good public engagement experiences they had. More about that process here. A quick summary of what we heard is below...
- Angry and aggressive behavior
- Lack of diversity at meetings
- Lack of participation
- Defensive speakers
- Stonewalling / misleading meeting leaders
- Decision already made
These experiences are unpleasant for anyone involved—whether you are managing a public engagement process or participating in it. Bad experiences like those above can ruin relationships with stakeholders and damage trust in government institutions. But in most cases, I believe these outcomes are avoidable.
Other themes that describe “good engagement” included the following:
- Meeting rules were explained and enforced
- Diverse participation
- Great visuals
I was particularly struck by one concept I saw on many post-it notes during his exercise because it is actually one of Highland Planning’s Core Values: listen.
It’s true that listening—and proving that you listened—is one of the most important aspects of any engagement process.