Archive for the ‘Tools & Techniques’ Category

Social Media & Technology Corner

January 31, 2015 Leave a comment

As social media users, we seek likes, shares, comments, and retweets as at least a surface indicator of how we’re doing with our Facebook Page/Twitter Account/LinkedIn Profile. We facilitate conversations and encourage interactions, creating opportunities for fans and followers to build connections. The question is – how do we source and leverage great content to boost interactions? Here are few ways:

1. Be Visible with “Weight”
With the launch of Facebook Timeline, engagement is increasingly important for achieving visibility in users’ news and activity feeds. We know that Facebook’s complex algorithm for determining visibility is largely affected by three factors: affinity, weight, and timeliness. Posts that contain videos, photos, and links hold more “weight.” These shareable posts appear in more feeds and incite more interactions, ultimately increasing reach potential. The bottom line is this: the ultimate driver for high visibility and ongoing engagement is compelling, quality content.

2. Monitor and Join Ongoing Conversations
Photos and videos are highly shareable, but real-time conversations provide great opportunities to make you visible. Look at trending topics on Twitter and craft real-time tweets to weigh in. See what topics are gaining steam on your own personal Facebook feed, and determine whether you could offer a meaningful contribution to the conversation. If your followers enjoy your posts, they will engage with and amplify your content.

3. Go Where Your Followers Spend Time
This is the one time where it’s socially acceptable to invite yourself to the party. Seek out the forums and discussion boards where your followers are sharing ideas and links. Look at their conversations on Twitter. Read the blogs they follow and the ones they share on LinkedIn. Glance at their Pinterest boards. Go where your followers spend time and talk about what they talk about. Use your creativity and start conversations about what matters most to them!

Sources: Edelman Digital

Categories: Tools & Techniques

MetroQuest–Innovative Technology

August 18, 2014 Leave a comment


By Adriana Hemzacek

Have you tried MetroQuest?


MetroQuest has been designed around the following formula:


broad engagement + informed input = community support for great plans



What is MetroQuest?

  • A highly-visual engagement tool designed to be fast and fun for participants
  • An online tool that collects meaningful input from a broad demographic
  • A flexible and cost-effective way to engage the community for any planning project
  • A viral tool that is so appealing that most participants learn about it from friends
  • Frequently cited as a best practice by planning and public involvement leaders
  • A tool that can be accessed on the web, smartphones, kiosks or at workshops
  • Used successfully by hundreds of cities and planning agencies across North America



Want to check it out?

MetroQuest is one of the public engagement tools that will be represented during the Tech Fair at the 2014 North American Conference in Winnipeg this fall.



Categories: Tools & Techniques

March Tip of the Month

March 6, 2013 1 comment

The request at a recent community meeting seemed innocuous enough.  Neighbors and others interested in the future of a large park in Austin, Texas, were reviewing design proposals as part of a master planning process.  Abruptly, one longtime resident living very close to the park asked the designers, “Will there be an opportunity for homeowners to have a meeting with the designers?” He insisted on an answer to the question before the meeting could continue.

Perhaps inadvertently, the resident brought up a great topic for the fields of public administration and public participation.  Across the country, governments at all levels—particularly local, county, regional, and even state—take on projects that affect a specific place.  When they do, people who live, work, and/or own property nearest to that place often feel they hold the deepest “stake” (from the term “stakeholder”).

The consequences for that perspective can be significant.  When longtime, nearby residents want a park or other public works project to go in one direction, while newer residents or those who use the park as visitors to the area want something different, how should a public administrator address that?  And in the specific context of public participation, when should a specific group get the opportunity to have a private meeting with decision-makers?  If administrators have to evaluate competing views, what value gets added when one specific group gets additional access to the administrators?

Of course, groups and individuals often get private access to administrators and, especially, elected officials.  They may develop power through campaign contributions or community organizing, and that may enable them to speak directly, and privately, with decision makers.  Public administrators are undoubtedly besieged with requests for their attention via meetings, calls, and emails (or even tweets and Facebook posts!), and it would be impossible to prevent administrators from speaking privately with members of the public.

But as more and more agencies embrace a new paradigm in public involvement, where all of those who may be affected by a governmental decision have an opportunity to have a say in that decision, administrators should consider how to balance public input delivered publicly and public input delivered privately.  When a group requests a private meeting, there may be real benefit to the decision-makers—they may share some ideas in that setting that they wouldn’t share more publicly, for instance, or the meeting might be more convenient for some people to attend.  But public administrators should take great care to enable more than just one requesting group to have that kind of audience.

In some ways, this gets to the heart of one of the challenges for public administrators everywhere—the increasing polarization of views, the tendency to gather and talk with only those with whom you agree while demonizing opponents’ views.  The new era of public engagement in which we find ourselves provides a challenging opportunity to administrators.  Can we convene diverse audiences (diverse not just in terms of ethnicity but viewpoint) to have respectful conversations that involve conflicting ideas?

This is the heart of public participation–creating a safe space for all voices to be heard and for the public to use their voices to find, build, and sustain consensus.  It is much, much easier to sit within a group of people whom you know and with whom you expect to agree most or all of the time than it is to reckon with people who have different perspectives, but on nearly every project public administrators tackle, they must bring those multiple perspectives together.

So, when someone else requests a separate meeting and states directly or implies that they don’t want to be bothered by the opinions of a group of people with whom they vehemently disagree, I would recommend that we indicate some willingness to consider a separate meeting but that we also ask some follow-up questions–either at that time or later.  It’s important to know what someone wants from a separate meeting that they cannot get from the community meeting, what they want to say then that they cannot say now, or what they are hearing now that makes them want to talk again later.

The only way communities will realize their dreams for their future is by convening these challenging conversations–not among the homogeneous groups of the like-minded but among the heterogeneous potpourri of people who all want a say.  Let them have their say–and have it in front of each other, peacefully, respectfully, and with an eye towards consensus.  That is the hard, necessary, and potentially quite rewarding work before us.

 Larry Schooler

President, International Association for Public Participation (IAP2 USA)

Categories: Tools & Techniques

Tip of the Month- November 2012: Record Keeping

October 31, 2012 2 comments


We know how hard it can be to convince a member of the public to take part in a public participation process.  After all, how do they know that a comment they make in a workshop in a single breakout group will make any difference to the final result?  The truth is that they don’t—unless we demonstrate to them that it does. 

That makes record-keeping during a public participation process all the more critical.  The only way we can be anywhere near sure that a person’s comments matter is if we document them to the best of our abilities—knowing we probably can’t get every word, every nuance, or every inflection, but we can get pretty darn close. 

But it’s more than just having the requisite number of notetakers, flipcharts, markers, notepads, or even iPads or laptops.  And it’s more than having the skills to check with participants on how to re-word their comments in a concise way so that they can be quickly captured and taken down as notes.  It can be just as important to check in with folks about how to record what they said as it is to be taking down what you hear them saying—you may not be fully understanding what they’re hoping decision-makers will hear, and it helps to be sure. 

That effort to take the notes only matters, though, if the notes go somewhere.  They should go to decision-makers, obviously, but they should also go where the participants can see them—AND what the decision-makers have done with them.  So, the raw notes from the events themselves need to go somewhere (a database, spreadsheet, etc.) that participants can find (emailed to them afterwards, posted on the web in an easy-to-find spot, etc.).  But once those notes are up, and you and your team and others summarize them into themes, those can then go onto a multi-column table.

In one column—say, on the far left—you list those public comment themes.  In the middle column, you list the decision-maker or staff “analysis”.  For instance, if the comment theme was “More money for affordable housing,” staff analysis could say, “Such funds are available via bonds that come before voters.”  Then, in the next column over, you can list either the recommended or planned action being taken on the basis of the public comments.  So, in the housing example, that could say, “Staff will recommend that City Council add funding for affordable housing to next bond referendum.” 

It’s important to appreciate that even the comments that multiple members of the public make multiple times may not make into the staff recommendation or the final decision.  But it’s important to show the public that a) you heard what they really said, b) you analyzed it, and c) why you’re not recommending it.  It may be that what they recommend for action can’t be done under state or federal law, so they would want or need to lobby the legislators at those levels to get the law changed.  Or it may be that funds aren’t available in the budget, so participants would want to advocate during the budget process.  Regardless, it builds trust to show that the decision-makers are listening, even when they may not agree on the recommended course of action, and are willing to explain why they disagree.  Few, if any, elected officials can satisfy their constituents with every vote, but those willing to explain what guided their decisions are more likely to gain public support than those who seem to ignore their constituents’ wishes.

The critical point here is that public participation depends on IAP2’s Core Value #7: Public participation communicates to participants how their input affected the decision.  To do that, the public participation team needs to devote resources to capturing all the input, both verbatim and in summary form, and to helping the public understand why their input mattered.  The more decision-makers show they care about what the public thinks, the more the public may care to take the time to share their thoughts. 

By: Larry Schooler, President-Elect IAP2 USA

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

Tip of the Month by Larry Schooler

July 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Public participation isn’t the only arena where an agenda matters—think of all the internal or organizational meetings you may have attended where a plan of action would have helped things move more smoothly and make the group feel more productive.  But an agenda in a public participation context takes on heightened significance when you consider that public agencies (like city councils) are required by law to post an agenda for their meetings with advance notice (usually more than a day) so the public knows what is coming.  An agenda distributed and/or posted in advance for just about all public participation meetings and events will undoubtedly benefit a public participation process in the long run.

It ties into IAP2’s core value that “Public participation provides participants with the information they need to participate in a meaningful way.”  A well-written agenda, with a clear objective for both the specific meeting and the process as a whole, gives the public important information about what is germane to the discussion and why the meeting is occurring in the first place.  Facilitators really need this clarity in order to help make sure all members of the public can participate in the discussion at hand and no one steers the conversation off topic.

The use of times next to each agenda item (#’s of minutes) also helps participants realize that meetings are usually designed to be deliberative, exchanges of ideas among people—rather than oratory, listening to one speech after another.  The presence of a time line for the meeting, item by item, can help participants move beyond a position of “for or against” a specific idea and towards some sort of collaboratively produced solution.

In groups like task forces or advisory groups, facilitators and/or government staff should consider vetting an agenda with the group before it becomes official.  This is their meeting, too, so collaboration in agenda-making can help build or establish trust.

Agendas often include a generic item known as “next steps.” Those compiling an agenda would do well to consider what those next steps could, should, or will be so that participants in the meeting know how the input they give during the meeting will impact future actions.

Larry Schooler

Mediator/Facilitator/Community Engagement Consultant, City of Austin

U.S. President-Elect, International Association for Public Participation (IAP2)


Categories: Tools & Techniques

Tip of the Month by Larry Schooler

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Tip of the Month: The Physicality of Public Participation

Quite often, government agencies host community meetings by arranging rows of chairs all facing towards the front, with one or two speakers at the front of the room. If you consider the other contexts where we usually find a seating arrangement like that, you might think of a lecture or a worship service with a sermon. In other words, that kind of seating seems to lend itself to a situation in which the assembled crowd expects to participate passively–listening, perhaps occasionally muttering something in agreement or disagreement, maybe getting a chance to ask questions at the end. It’s the kind of setting that lends itself to hearing from an “expert,” an “authority,” or a scholar–someone whose knowledge would benefit the audience member.

Given those dynamics, you might want to consider whether or not that kind of “pew style seating” works for your community conversation. After all, it’s pretty rare that you would convene a meeting simply to deliver information face-to-face–in this day and age, we typically convey information more quickly and affordably via other means, including technology. So, if your meeting serves a purpose beyond sharing information (like input gathering, review of alternatives, dialogue and deliberation, and the like), consider what physical seating or standing arrangements might best create an atmosphere for that kind of activity. A large semi circle or square arrangement of chairs, where everyone is facing everyone else, might work well for groups of a certain size. Smaller tables spread around the room might also work well, even for a full group conversation, provided everyone can hear and see (might need boards/screens around the room). Another option to consider is integrating staff, elected officials, or other key decision makers into the crowd rather than having them at the front of the room where they may be “targeted” by those angered by a proposal. In certain cases, like ones where decision makers represent a particular constituency or are, themselves, citizen volunteers, it might help to make public participants feel more like they’re on a level playing field with decision-makers.

Larry Schooler
Mediator/Facilitator/Community Engagement Consultant, City of Austin
U.S. President-Elect, International Association for Public Participation (IAP2)
(512) 974-6004

Categories: Tools & Techniques