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Small Business Development Committee Meetings - Shared screen with speaker view
Hi Tracy! Thanks for the great question. (1) I think the most important piece for answering your question is thinking about asking the right questions in the first place. When you plan for public engagement you have to make sure you're asking intentional questions. I always say you should never ask a question you're not interested in the answer to (ex. if you know you're going to put in a bike lane, just be transparent and say that, and instead offer questions that highlight areas of influence for comments; this also enables you to say why you're not using certain input).
(2) Regarding weighting different consensus: This is a value decision. You need to try to build an equitable process that incorporates the key stakeholder voices as much as possible, which will help see how your consensus might differ from what you hear more broadly. There's also the fact that good engagement will be iterative, and so those who participate repeatedly will build expertise and sometimes change their opinions during a process. If you identify a need to certain and elevate certain voices, that's ok, but you need to explain why (i.e. are there stakeholders that would be disproportionately impacted by a project?).
(3) Regarding extreme opinions/heated expressions. This is always going to happen, it's part of the joy of local government. However, you can influence the productivity of strong opinions by choosing good engagement tools. "Call and response" and "public hearings" tend to be more combative (I get in a long line to talk at you, next person talks at you, etc.). If you know you have a contentious topic, you might want to consider using a different engagement tool (breakout rooms are really helpful for humanizing those you disagree with, and getting participants to hear their neighbors before the broader all-participant discussion, another really neat and weird tool is called "Revolving Conversations"). There are many tools for managing conflict that help to balance strong opinions in the overall process so leaders don't have to make an independent decision at the end of a process.
Here's the Engagement Toolkit we developed in Pittsburgh that goes through over 40 different tools: https://apps.pittsburghpa.gov/redtail/images/7844_Public_Engagement_Toolkit.pdf
Debbie Miller
Excellent idea! Customers would feel more comfortable.