Author Archive

President’s Message

December 17, 2013 3 comments

Larry SchoolerIt is with a mix of emotions that I write to you this last message from me as your 2013 President. You might expect me to feel some relief at being able to pass on the responsibilities of the role to the extremely capable Doug Zenn, and while I am certainly confident in Doug, I also feel a pang of sadness stepping away from a role that has meant so much to me personally and professionally.

To that end, I hope you will take the opportunity to share with me via email ( or phone (512-974-6004) any feedback on the past year; I know it will benefit Doug and our new Board to know how you think the Board can best serve the members of our organization and the field as a whole. I welcome your comments. Most importantly, I appreciate your support during my term–no matter how zany my antics.

And speaking of the new Board, I hope you will participate in our upcoming Board elections. Several seats are open, and several great candidates have stepped forward to stand for election. Unlike many organizations, we allow our members to vote on individual candidates (rather than a slate), so I hope you’ll take a look at our candidates and cast a vote for a great, diverse national Board.

Speaking of national endeavors, the Board is supporting an initiative I am spearheading to get Mayors from around the United States to publicly support IAP2 USA–our Core Values and our work in general. I would very much appreciate hearing from you about Mayors whom you think we could call upon to support this work. Additionally, IAP2 USA, the Deliberative Democracy Consortium, and several other groups have been supporting an effort to bring model ordinances and statutes for public participation to cities and states around the country. If you’re interested in working on that project, visit the “Making Public Participation Legal” section of the DDC website. We would love your help in meeting with local and state officials to bring these templates to fruition, which will help lay the groundwork for more public participation that aligns with our Core Values.

Our webinar series in partnership with IAP2 Canada continues to go well–November’s was a near sellout–and we will announce upcoming dates shortly. For our December webinar, we asked you for suggested topics, and we picked one of yours–managing disruptions to public meetings. Please continue to send us topics you’d like to see us explore in future webinars; this is a key part of our portfolio of offerings to you, our members.

I hope you’ve already saved the date for the next North American conference, September 28-30, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. It should be an outstanding event that will give you numerous opportunities to learn, grow, and be recharged and inspired.

I want to encourage you to keep up with the Creating Community Solutions national dialogue on mental health–they rolled out a new initiative the other week called Text, Talk, and Act that I’ll hope you’ll share with your networks.

As you can see, there is a tremendous amount of work going on within IAP2 USA, including our Membership Task Force and our Communications Committee. Please be in touch with us to get more involved and help shape IAP2 USA into the organization that best meets your needs.

I will close this final message with a line from my favorite movie trilogy, Back to the Future, when the “inventor” of the “time machine,” Dr. Emmett Brown, told Marty McFly: “Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one.”

I know you will make IAP2 USA’s future great. I’ll be there to support you as a proud member of this growing organization.

My best to you.

Categories: Board

President’s Message

November 8, 2013 Leave a comment


Larry SchoolerHope everyone has had a good month back since our conference in Salt Lake City, which certainly energized me and I know inspired many others. I was and am so grateful for all who made the conference such a success, namely co-chairs Leah Jaramillo and David Hovde and their tireless committee of volunteers.

As you have hopefully seen, a number of exciting projects are underway, and we want and need your involvement. We are working on a certification process that builds upon our current certificate course and enables practitioners to achieve special distinction for their knowledge and professional accomplishment. We are also partnering with Creating Community Solutions and the National Dialogue on Mental Health to conduct public dialogues on that topic in cities around the country, and we are working with an inter-organizational team developing model ordinances and statutes for public participation. Be in touch with us if you’d like to be involved in any of those efforts.

We are also continuing to look for candidates for the Board of Directors, as several of us will complete our terms at the end of this year. I am excited to hand over the presidential reins to Doug Zenn, but I plan to continue actively contributing to IAP2 USA next year and beyond. Please let Doug know of your interest in the Board as quickly as possible.

Our next webinar is coming up next Tuesday, November 12th, at 2p Eastern/11a Pacific, and will deal with some unusual ways to use technology to reach the hard-to-reach. I hope you’ll join me for that. Please register today!

We are also taking your suggestions for webinar topics in December—it’s member’s choice! Let us know what you’d like to learn about in December!

Keep in touch—as my conference-closing song put it, “Like a bridge over troubled water, we’ll be here for you. Like a bridge over troubled water, we are IAP2.”

Categories: Board

Tip of the Month: The Message and the Medium

August 14, 2012 Leave a comment

Tip of the Month: August 2012

IAP2USA members may bristle at the notion of being compared (or confused) with public relations.  The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”  To some extent, the work we do in public participation also is designed to build mutually beneficial relationships, but where public relations professionals might seek to convey a specific position or point of view, public participation professionals would steer clear of that in favor of more “neutral” communications.

But IAP2USA members might benefit from a closer look at some of the aspects of public relations work to achieve greater success their public participation work.  For instance, PR professionals seem to have a knack for “getting the word out” about events of various sorts, and no public participation process can work as its designers intend if the public doesn’t know the process is happening.  Beyond just knowing specific media outlets to use for publicity, PR professionals can also help craft messages that clearly communicate to the public what the process is all about, just as they must for politicians, corporations, and others who need to communicate clearly. 

As you contemplate your public participation process, you don’t necessarily need to partner with or hire a public relations professional, but you probably should think a bit like one.  Think about where the people interested in your process look for information and how you can use those channels to present information in a way that compels them to participate.  So, the medium and the message are both important.  For instance, your local public radio station or a 24-news TV channel might be willing to set aside some air time each week to discuss an opportunity for the public to participate.  Organizations with print or electronic newsletters seem to be always looking for content, so a blurb for them would help.  In this age of information overload, where so many sources of information exist, some are turning to their neighborhood associations or other trusted organizations for information. 

Along the lines of other free or very low-cost methods for getting the word out, you can utilize the public spaces overseen by the sponsoring agency to post information—so if it’s a city or town with libraries and recreation centers and parks, those are great places, as are other gathering places like college campuses, large stores or malls, schools (who often have ways for you to send home fliers with students), and businesses (who will occasionally distribute emails to their entire workforce).  Get creative, but think about all of the places where you see information, and go after the sources where costs are low. 

Beyond that, think about the message.  “Please attend a community meeting session about the future of our city in 30 years” could also read “Our community’s population could double in 30 years.  We need your help to plan for that.”  Or, “A public meeting on the city’s water utility will occur next week,” could read “The city is facing a major water shortage that could mean significant cuts for individual users.  We need your input on how to deal with this challenging situation.”  Certainly, no one expects a public participation professional to exaggerate or create a false sense of urgency.  But it is important to provide the public with compelling reasons for participating—just as PR professionals try to provide compelling reasons to vote for a candidate or buy a product. 

So, be mindful of the message you convey to potential public participants and the media you use to convey that message.  For more advice, get in touch or share your ideas here!


Categories: Tools & Techniques

Examples of legislation/policy guiding public participation

June 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Hello, members:

We’re hoping you can help us respond to a national effort to compile best practices in public participation.  Anything you can contribute, please send to IAP2USA President-elect Larry Schooler at by July 9th.

A set of national associations, including the National League of Cities, American Bar Association, and Int’l City/County Management Association, is working to draft model policies, resolutions, and ordinances on public engagement and democratic governance. As part of this effort, we are soliciting examples of innovative legal documents or language being used to structure and guide public participation. 

This work responds to a significant challenge many cities face. Innovative practices for public engagement, including online tools and apps, have grown dramatically in recent years. Traditional legal frameworks for citizen participation were developed before these new avenues were available. To respond effectively to 21st Century citizens, and to address pressing fiscal, social, and political issues, cities need laws and policies that reflect what is working for cities today.


Effective public engagement includes various elements:


1)    Recruiting a diverse, inclusive group of community residents ;

2)    Involving community residents through both online and face-to-face venues;

3)    Providing participants opportunities to consider a range of views and policy options about a public issue; and

4)    Designing and implementing public engagement that produces tangible recommendations, actions and outcomes.


We need your help in finding sample policies, procedures, resolutions, or ordinances on public participation and engagement.  


  1. Can you share examples of local governments that have revised or adopted policies, procedures, resolutions or ordinances to enable greater or more innovative public engagement in local governance?
  2. Have you seen policies, procedures, resolutions, or ordinances that address alternative formats for public meetings?
  3. Can you share policies, procedures, resolutions, or ordinances that address that the use of social media or online technologies to generate and consider policy alternatives?
  4. Are you aware of policies, procedures, resolutions, or ordinances that address the definitions of “public” and “participation” or standards for quality public participation engagement?
  5. Are there state statutes or laws that represent a barrier or obstacle to innovation in public engagement? If so, what are they? Have you encountered an obstacle or barrier based on state law?
  6. Are there issues for public engagement arising out of state Freedom of Information, Public Meetings, or Sunshine Acts? If so, what are they?
  7. Please share any other information or examples you think are relevant to our effort.
Categories: Press Release

IAP2 USA Sponsors Conference on Participatory Budgeting

March 30, 2012 Leave a comment

A very interesting conference is kicking off this morning in New York City, NY. From their about page:

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. The process was first developed in Brazil in 1989, and there are now over 1,000 participatory budgets around the world. It is now common in Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa – and in some cases even required by law.

Yet it has only recently appeared on the radar in the US and Canada, with a few Canadian processes starting in 2001 and some initial US experiments starting in 2009. This conference will provide a space for participants and organizers of these initial processes to share and reflect on their experiences so far, alongside interested activists, practitioners, and scholars.

The Conference has seven main goals:

  • Encourage critical reflection on the PB processes and campaigns in the US and Canada
  • Exchange best practices from these processes and campaigns, and from experiences elsewhere
  • Connect PB practitioners, activists, scholars, and funders from different regions
  • Create new networks and collaboration, such as resource and information exchanges, mentoring relationships, joint promotional efforts, and research projects
  • Generate greater media coverage of PB in New York and elsewhere
  • Build broader interest in PB amongst community members, elected officials, funders, and other stakeholders.
  • Inspire new PB processes

As the home of the newest and largest PB process in the US, New York City is an ideal location for this conference. The conference will coincide with the final vote of the first PB cycle in New York, allowing attendees to observe PB in action.

A couple of weeks ago, IAP2 USA signed on as a conference co-sponsor. We’re very excited to connect with the PB community and look forward to mutual learning.

If you are among the conference attendees and would like to learn more about IAP2 USA and what we have to offer, please check out our website and contact us, visit out our sponsor table or find our Board member Tim Bonnemann at the conference, who is co-presenter at one of the sessions Friday afternoon and will be attending both days in full.

Categories: Press Release, Research Tags:

Closing time

March 21, 2012 Leave a comment
Occasionally, a “knock” you hear against a public participation process (beyond having, say, one public hearing) is how long the process will take and, thereby, delay action.  Of course, numerous projects conducted with minimal to no public participation often find themselves delayed or even cancelled when public interest turns to concern or outrage and evolves into protests, lawsuits, or recall elections. So, one could argue that extra time devoted to public participation before a decision is made can save immense amounts of time (and other resources).
But what constitutes “enough time” for the public to participate?  Perhaps it should vary based on the magnitude of the decision, the affected population, the impact, the complexity, and so on.  It might make sense to have a standard amount of “notice” given to the public of an opportunity to participate, allowing time for review of background information before directly engaging in dialogue and deliberation. In giving that type of advance notice, one must consider how far out the average person plans their life schedules and what it would take for them to clear space for an in-person meeting, apart from other ways of participating (online, by phone, etc.).
This comes to mind after reading this editorial criticizing the lack of time allotted to a local discussion on transportation issues.  As an aside, public participation can only succeed (defining success as widespread public participation that they view as meaningful) if the media assist in publicizing opportunities to participate and in advocating in support of public participation on editorial pages.  But apart from that, the editorial raises important questions for conveners of public dialogue to consider, namely: how long does it take for the public to learn about an issue under discussion, process background information, formulate opinions, and discuss them in dialogue with others, in such a way that it meaningfully influences the decision?  I know of at least one agency who now gives at least two weeks notice for all community meetings, let alone time for the process as a whole. 
On the flip side, the release of notes and other results from community meetings in a timely fashion (read, less than a week) would seem to build trust and confidence within the public that their voices were heard.  So while it would make sense to provide a sufficient amount of time for a reasonable person to clear time on a schedule to participate, it would also be helpful to provide feedback on how input was processed in as timely a fashion as possible given the resources at hand to track the input. 

Categories: Press Release

Public participation? Public theatre? Neither? Both?

December 7, 2011 1 comment

Anyone who has ever watched a city council meeting in the United States (or, I would suspect, elsewhere) knows that they may very well be in for a very entertaining event–particularly when the public has the opportunity to speak.  As an Austinite, I have particularly fond memories of the speeches given by Jennifer Gale, a one-of-a-kind participant in Austin City Council meetings who spoke frequently and colorfully on an array of topics.  Her memorial service was attended by many Council members, and she remains a household name at City Hall.

But as a public participation practitioner, I often wonder about the impact of public participation during Council meetings which, after all, often mark the culmination of public participation processes in other venues (open community meetings, planning commission or other subcommittee meetings, etc.).  One can certainly imagine a scenario in which large numbers of people attend a Council meeting in support of or in opposition to a measure and thereby sway undecided Council members to vote their way.  On the other hand, it might seem unlikely that a Council member would hear one (or even 10 or more) three-minute speeches and find they felt significantly different about a key issue.

Against that mental backdrop, I read this article from the Providence, Rhode Island area, where the Council wants to swear in members of the public who wish to speak to the Council.  The article suggests that the policy came about because of the behavior of speakers, though I wonder whether the notion of swearing in a speaker would make the speaker feel more or less welcome to speak his or her mind.  After all, a typical oath (which, by the way, many would feel uncomfortable taking for religious or other personal reasons) would involve swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, which might make one think he was in a courtroom on trial for his or her beliefs rather than in an assembly where their speech is more unrestricted.

Clearly, those convening public dialogues like city council meetings must, of necessity, take steps to ensure that the space is safe for all to participate, and the unruly behavior of some could make the space unsafe for others.  That said, it remains to be seen whether the particular reforms put forward in Rhode Island will meaningfully improve public participation there.  It would be hard to justify not involving the public as participants in meetings open to the public, so it seems more productive to have some rules for participation than to prohibit such participation entirely.

But elected officials in Rhode Island ought to consider whether their system for involving (or, in some cases, not involving) the public has, in a way, catalyzed or provoked some of the questionable behavior exhibited by the participants.  For instance, if a member of the public wanted to have an audience with elected officials but had to wait hours for a few minutes of time, or if the public had previously not had a chance to address elected officials at all, it would make sense that they would feel frustration, anger, and other negative emotions that might come out when they addressed the government.

So, it is incumbent upon any elected body not simply to create a system whereby a person can participate in meetings of the City Council (subject to rules that keep the forum safe and open to all), but also to develop other channels for the public to communicate with its elected officials–in-person, online, with one another, and so on.  Doing so would not only placate those upset by the limits placed on their public participation.  It would also give more people a chance to participate, thereby giving elected officials a clearer sense of how their constituents feel about an issue, so that the eventual public policy better suits the community and lasts longer or withstands future challenges.