Public Outreach

To implement successful public engagement two key questions must be answered:

  • What are the key constituencies for success? Before embarking on any program of public outreach, it is critical to first identify those who must be involved. For example, if we are working with a downtown district that is seeking to revitalize, we place a strong emphasis on actively involving property owners because they ultimately control the most important features in a downtown: buildings and their tenants! If owners aren’t involved, nothing will likely change for the better. Or, if we are collaborating with a school district on a long term identity building strategy, we might focus on engaging voters without children, to understand how this important stakeholder group perceives the district, and to learn what issues might be important to them.

  • How do you appeal to key constituencies? Different types of outreach should be implemented in order to garner involvement from various stakeholder groups. Property owners respond best to one-on-one contact, either via telephone or in-person. They are most interested in engagement that has a positive impact on their economic interests. Owners generally do not respond consistently to email. Residents will often participate when sought out directly by an elected official, and will respond more consistently to email from this group. Also, how long a meeting is, where it is held, what time of day it is scheduled, and what extra amenities are offered (snacks, meals, childcare) are all variables that should be carefully considered as they too impact attendance.

Generally, we take the following approach to public engagement:

  1. Education. Ensure that the public is suitably informed on the subject about which they are being asked to opine. If you seek feedback on an issue for which there is no shared vocabulary or understanding, the quality of information received will be low, as will the satisfaction level of the attendees.

  2. Wide Stakeholder Participation. Begin looking beyond the usual few people who do the heavy lifting when it comes to public participation, and look for new and innovative ways to expand involvement.

  3. Listening. As you recruit new stakeholders, make sure you schedule time to truly hear them and learn from them.

  4. Circling Back. If you engage the public on an issue, and then never actually circle back to give them any sort of meaningful presentation regarding ultimate findings and recommendations, a cycle of distrust is created.

Relevant experience includes facilitating conference panels; holding public charrettes; developing and managing RFP response committees; conducting business association technical assistance; and, giving presentations, workshops, tours, and walkthroughs with various public and private sector organizations.