We ran out of time to respond to all questions submitted during last week's webinar "Harnessing Shared Values to Drive Community Action". Marjo since provided written responses to us, whcih are provded below. Make sure you get all the way to the bottom, where Marho shares a TON of great links to help you in your next public participation effort!
Q: You mentioned that even at the final celebration/presentation you still allowed for feedback - how did you keep that from going off the rails and appearing like you were still in planning/goal setting stage?
A: Good question. The final meeting was a review of the action plan priorities and approaches developed by the Action Plan Working Groups. Going into action planning, we had already had discussions with the community about desired outcomes for each of the four topics. We had determined goals prior to starting the action planning. Our direction was confirmed. A responsibility of being in a working group was to best represent the community as a whole. The community input to the working groups and the working group output was consistent. “What did the public say?” was used to check our direction often. When something needed to be adjusted, we had a clear rationale for why.
The final meeting presented the asked for feedback in a way that sought confirmation or objection to the overall direction and implementation strategies. We asked:
Overall what we heard as feedback we had already heard and were already aware of. Essentially, we triangulated during every phase.
If you go off the rails in a final meeting, a few things likely occurred.
Use each phase as an opportunity to ask yourself: Are we ready to go to the next phase? Who have we not heard from that we need to meet with? We actually extended our Phase 2 learning because we did not feel we were ready for Phase 3.
And sometimes, everything can hit the fan even if you do it all right. But that should be the rare occasion, not the norm.
Q: Can you describe some of the strategies you might employ to help the public/all people who will be involved, not become impatient with the process of engaging over time. These things can take a while and there can be meeting burn-out, expectations of products sooner than is possible, etc.
A: I find staff burn out more than community members. For staff I think it is building in some breaks in the flow so they can recharge. I think being realistic about the timeline and not demanding it get done in a crazy short timeline. Recognize other work load requirements and trying to balance those rather than simply say this will be additional work on top of your other work. Find opportunities to celebrate in each phase and recognize what has been accomplished. Create benchmarks for progress. Show gratitude by a lunch, a happy hour, or some extra time off. Lastly, reflect. Is there anything you can stop doing that is not working? Can you better share the work load or ask for help. Can you get interns, etc.
For the public I think setting the expectation in the process from day 1 is key. Here are levels of participation (high commitment a committee, low commitment give input). Each phase needs to be distinct and demonstrate progress. Engagement activities should be diverse. Don’t use the same open house format for every meeting to go through goals, strategies, and plan review. Mix it up! My biggest advice is only ask for input where it matters the most and make that engagement activity topnotch. Make it matter!
Q: What was to total time frame for the process, and how quickly can the process happen?
A: Well, of course the answer is it depends! I’ve only once done a community driven planning process (with a high participation goal) in less than 8 months once and it was grueling. The depends part should be determined by what the local government wants to accomplish. What is your definition of success? To achieve that does it require a high, medium, or low level of participation? The amount of participation will drive the timeline. For the OVPP, we had a huge barrier of negative public perception of ability to take action, so we were cautious and took the time where we needed to make sure we got it right. While the entire planning process was a year and a half, the public process was one year with time off for mud season, holidays, spring breaks, etc.
In general, I’d say each type of activity has a general timeframe to go by:
See response above about preventing burnout on timeline development as well. Doing it as fast as possible does not always help build buy-in.
Lastly, ask yourselves to what extent public engagement is important to achieve action. The culture of the community determines the depth of engagement. Distrust from former processes or decisions, high expectations for engagement, failure to implement other plans and low expectations, degree of conflict…all of these effect the amount of time and effort you need to put in.
Q: What was the program for tracking community stakeholder contacts?
A: I believe you mean community participants? For meetings we used sign in sheets with asked for contact information. This was entered into a master excel spreadsheet with contact info for Participants, Committee Members, Organizations & Civic Organizations, Partners. We had a google email for the project that we used to distribute updates.
We also collected information on where people lived (upper, middle, or lower valley), age ranges, residency (FT/PT), and income ranges. At meetings we used posters on the wall to collect dots. On forms checkboxes.
Facebook and the Community Forum (online) required names, but we did not collect demographic data.
On surveys and postcards names were optional, but we did as for demographic data.
Chalkboards were anonymous.
We decided to track both total number of contacts (submissions of comments) and people who participated that we could track. We broke down and shared that information analysis with the community, elected officials, and project staff.
For figuring out who key stakeholders were we used the community network analysis. Here are links to how to guides:
Q: Did the "usual suspects" who normally had their voices and opinions rise to the top support this broader, more inclusive approach or did they feel they lost their influence over planning in the community?
A: They did not feel their influence was lost and supported the project. A few anti-growth voices reserved “healthy skepticism”, but did not protest the outcomes. We made sure they were actively engaged on an Advisory Committee who we consulted with on process design in start up phases, personally invited to meetings and events, solicited as thought leaders for Letters to the Editor, and on the Action Planning Working Groups. Their voices are important, they just need to be integrated into the community and they also needed to listen to others.
Q: Were any online public meetings held? If so, what program/format was used? Did you feel they were successful?
A: For this particular process we did not. We did hold some webinars for education purposes using platforms like Go To Meeting that permitted people to connect remotely and we used a web-based community forum for resident to resident discussion on our website.
I’ve wanted to experiment with them and would love to hear if you have. Here are some of the platforms that support group dialogues. Some free and others per month.
Communities have experimented with small community conversation “chats” using google hangouts and skype. I think for reaching younger people and families it would be a cool tool. NCDD might have some guides.
Q: I saw that video was used. Was that helpful? What was the purpose?
A: A number of videos were used. Community Builders took the lead in production. The strategy was to record stakeholder interviews (personal stories and project leadership) to build interest in the project and get the word out about OVPP. The second video was progress on the project and what key issues the OVPP strategy would address. The final video about the outcomes and what comes next. The purpose of the second and third videos to inform community members and funders of potential of this project.
Good links to community engagement resources
Community Engagement Capacity Building Organizations/Examples
Community Engagement Guides Resources
Web Based Engagement Platforms