Taming the Tiger
Very interesting article in Next City on the power and problems of integrating Public Engagement – http://nextcity.org/forefront/view/the-case-for-rethinking-public-engagement
While new internet tools (MindMixer, e.g.) offer a very interesting promise of great democracy, these tools are rightly dismissed by the elderly and lower income citizens for being too inaccessible. As access increases with time, these arguments will most likely diminish.
The real culprits in public engagement, as Blumgart points out, are either the rote civic exercise, and/or the fait accompli. I have organized and participated in more than enough public forums to see these two scenarios play out. Our most successful event (seen at http://tinyurl.com/q9kpsgm)did a few things to help thwart the shouting and start a dialogue. The first is to introduce each event with very clear processes and goals. If the participants understand that being in an active member of any society means understanding and accepting compromise, and everyone cannot get everything that they want, the more adult and effective the discussion will be. The second is time. The most vocal argument I have heard over and over is, “the change is happening too fast.” Given enough time and enough room for comment and reflection, the more everyone can wrap their heads around the need for change and the issues behind them.
This may seem like a clear path towards “design by committee,” and it unfortunately often is. These two additional culprits need their own path towards understanding and aspiration, but it gets the group pointed in the right direction.