An excellent article was written by Adam Shanks about the $81 million available and the city wanting input from citizens (“City Council wants your ideas on how to spend $81 million,” July 24). Town hall events are planned.
In the 1970s both the city and the county had numerous large group events about the park future, about HUD monies, about the 5 Mile Prairie, etc.
I facilitated those meetings.
They were highly successful and are written about and available free. The HUD project with the Northwest Regional Foundation (credit Bob Stilger and Susan Vernig) leading the way, won a national HUD award.
Many citizens distrust that their ideas will become operative, and public officials fear that some citizens will turn the meetings in to a gripe session, don’t know enough to suggest realistic solutions, etc.
The following was essential in our success:
1) The facilitator must be perceived by the citizens as neutral and must be highly skilled in managing large groups.
2) The facilitator must keep the city staff and officials from telling people what they should do (which creates pushback) as opposed to providing factual information about technical knowledge needed in order to have informed citizen recommendations.
3) The facilitator must be strong and confident enough to interrupt citizens or city officials to ensure the above.
4) The context for the meetings must include planned (with dates announced) follow-through sessions where the citizens in the various town meetings meet after the Council has made decisions about their recommendations. These meetings would be an accountability celebration of the decisions the Council has made or would be organizing meetings to protest those decisions.
Without the above being in place, especially the ACCOUNTABILITY factor, prepare for dissatisfied citizens and a less excellent product.
Robert P. Crosby