Techniques to Bring People Together (1)
We have discussed the importance of engaging the public’s voice in decision-making. People can participate to give their feedback and opinions through different types of techniques. Here we generalize some common techniques that can bring people together to discuss the issues and make collaborative decisions.
1 Public hearings
Public hearings are official meetings where people can listen to the facts of issues and give their opinions before decision-making and implementation by officials. Public hearings are a common form of engagement. They usually offer organized and scheduled presentations with public voice recorded.
Public hearings provide citizens with an opportunity to speak. Public hearings are typically compulsory by law or sponsors and are widely used in all levels of government for all purposes. The hearings can also be organized by social organizations at the local, regional or international level.
As it is not required to make decisions based on the views or opinions presented at the hearing, public hearings are just a way for citizens to share their concerns and idea. The officials in the hearings are generally not obliged to respond publicly. In reality, public hearings do not support deliberative dialogues. The structure and timing of the hearings are constrained. Thus, people have less chance to discuss and exchange ideas.
2 Public meetings
Public meetings are meetings that bring a large and diverse group of people together for information sharing and discussion. During the meetings, the officials usually make presentations and the public express their opinions, ask questions, interact with other participants, and work collaboratively on solutions. Unlike public hearings, public meetings are not required to follow any agenda or structures.
Participants can listen and talk to others and have opportunities to ask questions and comment as well as learn from each other. It is a way to build consensus for complex issues and develop alternative strategies. Public meetings also help to build a sense of community and create a chance for networking.
If not well designed and organized, the meetings may escalate the conflicts and make the situation out of control. Facilitators may not be able to create an open and neutral discussion. In some cases, meetings are usually dominated by voices from the people who have the dominant right in the community or those who have good verbal communication skills. Thus, not all opinions are shared and heard.
3 Online forums and meetings
While public participation is shifting from offline to online, online forums and meetings have occurred and become common in recent years. It connects people from different geographic locations and creates an online community for participants. To attract more people to participate, graphic materials should be planned and prepared ahead.
Online forums and meetings cost less and are time efficient. It is possible to involve a broader and diverse group of participants from different time zones at different geographic locations in the meetings. People can also participate at different times according to arrangements and techniques. If positive engagement experiences and stories from participants are shared online, it can attract more people to engage.
Online forums reduce the chance for close connections or interactions among participants. Online meetings require to have more engagement skills and well-prepared plans than in-person meetings. Moreover, it is difficult to manage conflicts online. Previous negative experiences can be spread easily and quickly online and demotivate people in participation.
(To be continued …)