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Report from APA in Atlanta Get Together

Last month, the American Planning Association (APA) hosted their 2014 National Planning Conference in Atlanta, GA. On the final day of the conference, a number of practitioners at the intersection of planning and public participation came together to discuss how the bridging efforts between these two communities could be improved.

Below is a report from Myles Alexander, Project Coordinator for the Center for Engagement and Community Development and Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State University, who co-hosted the meetup.

Beginning with an NCDD (National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation) listserv post by Ron Thomas (University of Georgia), Ron, Tim Bonnemann (IAP2 USA) and Myles Alexander (Kansas State University) began talking about how to instill the practice of planning with more meaningful public participation. We organized an informal meeting during the American Planning Association (APA) conference. On Tuesday 29 April eight planners and facilitators bridging APA, IAP2 USA, NCDD and the International Association for Conflict Management (IACM) met over drinks and dinner. After introductions talked about how we can do stronger, more productive public participation.

Our beginning agenda for APA 2015 includes:

  1. Coordinate a booth featuring public participation software and our organizations.
  2. Organize regular 75 minute sessions and possible a “Deep Dive” double session that would address a skill. Several topics were mentioned:
    • What public participation can be accomplished with online media?
    • What public participation must be accomplished face-to-face?
    • How do online and face-to-face modes complement each other?
    • Engagement infrastructure (both low tech and high tech) and community building

We also talked about some long-term projects.

  • Several of us contribute to an APA published monograph on public participation in planning. The monograph series, PAS, has a long history yet public participation has been neglected.
  • Advocate for public participation with possibilities that address the fears of elected officials and local government administrators.
  • Develop working relationships among our organizations. This summer a new executive director arrives at APA. Meet with Planners Network, International City/County Management Association (ICMA), IAP2, NCDD and IACM leadership probably beginning spring 2015.

There is obviously a lot of opportunity for collaboration across communities and the various neighboring organizations that support them.

For IAP2 USA’s part, Board member Marijoan Bull will serve as coordinator for these efforts. Already, more than 20 people have expressed interest to move the conversation forward. If you’d like to get involved, please contact us.

2014 Neighborhoods USA Conference: Call for Proposals

October 31, 2013 Leave a comment

Eugene, OR is proud to host the 2014 Neighborhoods, USA Conference, May 21-24, 2014.

Neighborhoods, USA (NUSA) is a national organization representing those individuals, organizations and local governments working at the neighborhood level to improve their communities. Whether it’s food security, crime, childhood health, foreclosure prevention, community redevelopment or building their capacity for grassroots work – NUSA members come together each year to share their experiences and expertise and learn from one another about how to make their communities even better, stronger and healthier.

Next year’s conference includes notable keynote speakers (Jim Diers/Asset Based Community Development, Michelle Hunt/Dreammakers, and Julian Agyeman/Just Sustainabilities); 45 workshops in 7 tracks and 10 tours.

Eugene expects to welcome over 600 people from all over the United States as well as Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa and Japan. NUSA 2014 is an opportunity to showcase the creative, compassionate and forward-thinking work being done by local organizations like yours.

For a copy of the RFP, please contact conference coordinator rene.c.kane@ci.eugene.or.us. Deadline for application is 5pm Eastern Standard Time, November 1st, 2013.

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.

Open Government Partnership

August 17, 2011 Leave a comment

The Open Government Partnership is the latest in a series of open government initiatives that have come out of Washington DC in recent years:

The Open Government Partnership is a global effort to make governments better. We all want more transparent, effective and accountable governments — with institutions that empower citizens and are responsive to their aspirations. But this work is never easy.

It takes political leadership. It takes technical knowledge. It takes sustained effort and investment. It takes collaboration between governments and civil society.

The Open Government Partnership is a new multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance. In the spirit of multi-stakeholder collaboration, OGP is overseen by a steering committee of eight governments and nine civil society organizations.

The US administration is currently running a consultation with stakeholder organizations and the public to get input on a US National Plan, to be presented at the UN in September.

On July 28, IAP2 USA received an invitation to attend one of the stakeholder meetings. From the email:

We would like to invite you (or a designee) along with no more than one additional representative from your organization to a one-hour discussion with White House officials and other stakeholders to hear your thoughts on a proposed US National Plan per the Open Government Partnership (http://www.opengovpartnership.org/). This will be a chance for us to listen and hear your input on a US National Plan to meet the four core open government principles as laid out by the Partnership: transparency, citizen participation, accountability, and technology and innovation.

This meeting was held in Washington, DC on July 29. IAP2 USA was able to send two representatives: Doug Sarno, who attended in person, and our Board member Leanne Nurse, who attended via phone.

IAP2 USA is engaging in the conversation at the national level on improving public participation in the federal decision making process. Some key issues discussed at the meeting were:

  1. agency staff and managers need core competencies in participation,
  2. an understanding of key principles that lead the dissemination of tools, and
  3. development of good metrics to measure success of participation with a focus on the quality and results of that participation.

For a detailed report of the meeting, please check out Alex Howard’s post, which mentions IAP2 USA and the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation: Notes from the third White House Open Government Partnership consultation

The point, about defining a baseline for public participation, was taken up and emphasized by many of those invited to the July 29 consultation. One of our major tools is the public participation spectrum, said Douglas Sarno of IAP2 USA. No systematic approach to what we’re trying to do or what’s been achieved has been defined by the White House, he said, and no way of qualifying bonafide public participation versus hackneyed participation defined. There are good challenges in finding metrics.

As some may remember, IAP2 was quite involved in the early phases of the Open Government Dialogue back in 2009 (that was before its transition to a federation of national affiliates that saw the launch of IAP2 USA). Representatives of IAP2 attended several meetings, and IAP2 co-authored the Core Principles for Public Engagement. We’re glad to see that IAP2 USA is finally in a position to pick up the baton.

Thanks to Leanne and Doug for making the time on very short notice. We hope to share their notes from the meeting shortly.

Strategic Planning

We’re just about to kick off our first round of strategic planning here at Austin City Hall.

Here’s three questions to get us warmed up:

  • If IAP2 USA didn’t exist, why would it matter?
  • What are we uniquely capable and positioned to do?
  • Who should we serve?

Mind helping us with the answers? What do you think? Please leave a comment, thanks!