Description of Community Involvement Techniques
This technique incorporates a number of different types of committees. The advisory committee is a popular community involvement technique because it can serve many different functions. Consequently, you should determine precisely what you want to accomplish and how the advisory committee can be tailored for the function it will serve. The different types of advisory committees are:
Advantage: It can provide quick advice to the decisionmakers on the popularity/unpopularity of an issue.
Disadvantage: Deciding who should be on the committee is in itself a difficult decision.
Advantage: The committee is made up of lay people whose ideas, concerns, issues, etc., can benefit the problem-solving effort.
Disadvantage: Since the group may be large and may include diverse interests, meetings could become lengthy and possible awkward.
Advantage: When it works well, this type of committee can contribute toward a general improvement in the public decisionmaking environment by offsetting polarization of interests which can adversely affect the entire governmental decisionmaking climate.
Disadvantage: Such a committee involves the risk of agitating the community if not managed effectively.
Advantage: The members do not commit their interest groups to any position and do not generally attract media attention and is therefore low-key.
Disadvantage: The committee requires considerable time and a substantial commitment of time and effort.
Advantage: It can help the agency get to the bottom of a complex issue.
Disadvantage: The report, which is generally issued at the end of the committees work, is not widely published or read, and as a result, recommendations may not be implemented.
Advantage: A Watch-Dog Committee can help restore public faith in
decisionmakers or the decisionmaking process.
Disadvantage: it is hard for lay people to really check the work of the agencys experts without proper training in the field.
Advantage: A body of supporters increases an agencies chances for successfully solving the problem at hand.
Disadvantage: It may be disadvantageous for a public agency that has tough problem-solving responsibilities to be recruiting and organizing solely its supporters.
This type of meeting attempts to resolve a pre-determined problem in the absence of top administrators. The various interests should be represented by staff-level personnel who are not in a position to make concessions or demands. A working meeting is most useful in exploring alternatives and reviewing technical issues.
Advantage: Working meetings invite and
facilitate free give-and-take discussions without committing participants to policies.
Disadvantage: Trying to find a compromise when participants express strongly opposed views can be time consuming and detract from the meetings goal to resolve a specific problem.
Public Mass Meeting
The purpose of a public mass meeting is to demonstrate support, opposition, or concern about a particular issue.
Advantage: Public mass meetings serve
to generate public comment.
Disadvantage: Public mass meetings are especially likely to generate controversy.
Large Group/Small Group Meeting
If there is a particularly large crowd, this technique is to make a presentation to the entire crowd and then break into smaller discussion groups.
Advantage: The small group discussion
provides everyone an opportunity to participate intensively and report back to the large group.
Disadvantage: This type of meeting requires more staff members on hand who are competent in their abilities to organize groups.
This type of meeting involves a panel of representatives of different opinions who discuss the issues in question, followed by either questions from the audience or by small group discussions. It is designed to air certain issues, hear different viewpoints, shed light on a subject, and facilitate the decisionmaking process at a later date.
Advantage: A panel format allows
responsible individuals to air their views, and documentation of the meeting provides a record of how the issues were resolved.
Disadvantage: If the issues are extremely complex and evoke considerable public response, the issues may become more confused.
Workshops usually have a specific task or goal to be accomplished. This type of meeting can make the individual compromises that are necessary for developing a single list of priorities or preferences.
Advantage: Workshops help bring to the
surface major concerns and allow for people to express their preferences. It is especially useful in developing potential solutions to problems.
Disadvantage: The views expressed in a workshop do not represent a real decision by the community, unless the participants happen to be the governmental body having legitimate decisionmaking responsibility for the issue at hand.
An open house meeting is an informal event held at a well-known location and scheduled at a time such as the evenings or the weekends convenient to most working people. Often the purpose of such a meeting is to present the public with various alternatives that can lead to a solution. Experts are available to explain issues, answer questions, and respond to public concerns. The decisionmakers then may choose an alternative after taking into consideration comments from the public.
Advantage: An open house allows the
public to learn about the issues in question in a non-intimidating, informal manner with technical experts on hand.
Disadvantage: Since only those especially interested in learning more about the issues are likely to attend, there may not be a very wide public representation. There is a tendency for this format to turn into a loosely organized public mass meeting.
Public hearings are formal in nature and consist of three major parts: a presentation summary of the main parts of the project or problem; an outline of the range of solutions including the recommended solutions; and the publics reactions to the proposed course of actions.
Advantage: Public hearings fulfill the
minimum legal requirement for citizen participation, prevent an agency from making decisions in secrecy without giving the public opportunity for comment, and is a means of establishing an official permanent record.
Disadvantage: Public hearings can be the perfect setting for confrontation and conflicts rather than rational discussion
One technique for quickly assessing public sentiment is to conduct a series of interviews with key individuals representing the range of public most likely to be interested or affected by the study. Information likely to be discussed in an interview would include the amount of interest in the study, the goals and values of the interest group the individual represents, the manner in which the interest group would like to participate in the study, and the political climate and relationship between the various interest groups. Interviews can be either nonsstructured or structured.
Advantage: Interviews can provide
important information about how various individuals wish to participate.
Disadvantage: Interviews may not be entirely representative of public sentiment.
Field Office Visits
Field offices, which are local offices of the sponsoring agency, are designed to encourage "drop-ins" and other informal interactions with the community using exhibits, charts, maps, brochures and other materials on display. The offices can also be the meeting place for workshops, task force meetings, open houses, or other events.
Advantage: Field offices provide a means of informal interaction with the local community at the convenience of the residents. Staff occupying field offices often obtain a better understanding of community needs and desires.
Disadvantage: Field offices can be costly to staff and operate.
Hotlines have been used as a method of handling noise complaints and as coordination points for individuals requiring information about the progress of a study. Comments received over a hotline can be incorporated as a part of the record of a public meeting or hearing. The communication skills of the staff operating the hotline are very important, as defensive or insensitive responses to the public may produce negative effects. The use of an answering machine during normal working hours also reduces the value of a hotline.
Advantage: The hotline provides a
convenient means for citizens to participate in the study. It also may be a useful means of providing information about meetings or other community involvement activities.
Disadvantage: The hotline must be staffed by people willing and able to deal with public comments effectively. It can require a great deal of staff time.
One technique which has been used to inform or obtain comment from the public is to set up displays or exhibits in public places such as the agency lobby, shopping centers, or other locations in high visibility areas. Displays and exhibits may be particularly useful in reaching publics that had not been previously identified as interested in aviation issues.
Advantage: Displays and exhibits provide general information to the pubic about aviation issues and helps identify individuals and groups with an interest in aviation issues.
Disadvantage: If exhibits are staffed, they involve a major commitment of staff time. It also must be coordinated with other public involvement techniques so that interest developed through the exhibit can be directed into other community involvement activities.
Reports, brochures, and information bulletins provide a means to inform the public of the opportunities for participation, of the progress of the study to date, and of any decisions that have been made.
Advantage: Publications are able to
communicate a greater amount of information than almost any other form of communication. Publications serve as a permanent record of what has transpired in the community involvement program.
Disadvantage: Because of cost factors, publications may reach only a limited audience.
Surveys are an effort to determine public attitudes, values, and perceptions on various issues. Surveys can be conducted by phone, mail, individual interviews, or in small group interviews. Federal regulations require Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approval of all surveys or formal questionnaires conducted by Federal agencies or with Federal funds. These approvals are difficult and time-consuming to obtain.
Advantage: Well-designed sampling
procedures can create a survey which is truly representative of the population from which it was drawn. Surveys can provide an expression of feeling from the public as a whole, not just those members of the public who are most directly affected.
Disadvantage: Unless surveys are carefully designed, they do not produce reliable and meaningful data. The cost of developing statistically reliable surveys is high. Requirements for OMB approval complicate the use of this technique for most Federal agencies.
Participatory television holds considerable potential as a tool for both informing the public and soliciting participation. Several major uses of television programs include: preparing a half hour or one hour program which describes alternative courses of action in a major study; obtaining a block of time and conducting a call-in show on issues; obtaining a regular block of free time from the local channel and use this as a channel of communication about upcoming events and as a forum for continuing the discussion.
Advantage: Participatory television
reaches the largest audience of any community involvement technique. This technique is most convenient for the participants, because they do not have to leave their home.
Disadvantage: It is difficult to obtain large blocks of time for a participatory television program on commercial television. The audience viewing the program may not be representative, and any votes or tallies taken as a result of the program may be unrepresentative.
The cumulative brochure is a document which keeps a visible record of a series of repetitive public meetings, public brochures, workshops, and citizen committee meetings. At the beginning of the process, a brochure is prepared presenting various study alternatives along with the pros and cons for each of the alternatives. In a series of public meetings and workshops, individuals, agencies, and organizations are invited to submit their own alternatives, which are then included in the brochure along with their description of pros, cons, and a no-action alternative. The brochure is then republished with space provided in the brochure for individuals to react to the various alternatives by writing their own pros and cons. These comments then become a part of the new brochure.
Advantage: The process is very visible
and allows the public to see how a decision was reached. It encourages open communication between the various members of public as well as between the public and the sponsoring agency.
Disadvantage: The final brochure can be a large, cumbersome document and the many editions of the brochure can be expensive toproduce.
Conduct Contests or Events
One way to obtain publicity for your community involvement program is to stage a contest or event as a means of stimulating interest and gaining newspaper or television coverage. Examples of this technique might include: an essay contest in the public schools regarding aviation; a photo contest for the best photo of antique plans; tours of agency facilities. The aim is to stage a newsworthy event, related to the theme of the community involvement study.
Advantage: This technique may generate
substantial interest and publicity. It also will help to identify individuals interested in the kinds of issues addressed by the study.
Disadvantage: This technique typically does not produce comment directly applicable to the study.
Mediation is the application of the principles of labor/management negotiation to environmental or political issues. In mediation, a group is established which represents all the major interests that will be affected by a decision. The basic ground rule which is established is that all agreements will be unanimous. A key element in mediation is the appointment of a third party mediator who is not seen as an interested party to the negotiations. Mediation is only possible when the various interests in a conflict believe they can accomplish more by negotiation than by continuing to fight.
Advantage: Mediation may lead to quick
resolution of issues that might otherwise be dragged out through litigation or other political processes.
Disadvantage: Mediation is an entirely voluntary process and, therefore, will work only when all parties are willing to negotiate.
There are a number of simulation games which have been designed to allow people to simulate the effects of making particular policy choices and decisions and, in the process, learn more about the impacts of decisions and the interrelated nature of various features of an environmental or economic system. Simulation gaming provides an opportunity for people to try out their positions and see what the consequences would be and how other groups react to them.
Advantage: Simulation games can
provide the public with information about the consequences of various policy positions or decisions. Participation in a simulation game is usually fun, and participants develop a rapport and communication which can be maintained throughout the entire study.
Disadvantage: There are a number of simulation games on the market that are confusing, over-technical, or misleading. You will have to exercise great care in selecting a simulation game appropriate for your particular study. This technique does not provide opportunities for direct public comment on your study. Since few games have a perfect fit with reality, citizens may apply the game rules inappropriately to the actual situation.
Training programs are usually conducted to improve citizen understanding of how studies are conducted, to inform them of technical information necessary to understand the study, and to provide citizens a more equal footing with professionals so that citizens can work with professionals without being intimidated by their expertise.
Advantage: Training may increase the
effectiveness or impact the public has upon the study. Properly trained citizens can make a valuable contributions in the conduct of the community involvement program.
Disadvantage: Some citizens may resent the suggestion that they need training or may question the "objectivity" of a training program conducted by a planning agency. Conducting an effective training program requires special training skills and, therefore, may require the additional cost of an outside consultant. Also, the training must be integral to the planning or decisionmaking process or citizens will view the training as wasted time and effort.