Did the consultation represent the community?

white crowdIn public consultation, we often say we “consulted with the community”, but did we?

Any self-selecting public consultation process (e.g. online or paper surveys, public meetings) will not be statistically representative of the community.  To be reliably representative, participants would need to be selected randomly (aka “sortition”) to avoid self-selection bias.  Self selecting participants are more likely to be advocates with stronger opinions compared to the average resident.

That said, notwithstanding the self-selection bias, how representative a public survey is can be judged, in part, by comparing how well the demographic profile of the respondents matches the known demographics of a community, as recognized by the regional census, for example, looking at the gender and age of participants.

We can also look at the address of the participants – were they from the local community?

Specific to each consultation topic, we should also consider representation of stakeholder types. For example a consultation about a park should include all types of park users, including seniors, parents with children, organized sport players, people with and without dogs, etc.  In the case of roadway reconfigurations, how people travel (walk, bike, bus, or drive) is a key stakeholder type to consider.

And importantly, is the rate of participation large enough to be significant.  A survey of 50 people is likely less representative than one of 500 people.

 

Two Great Newsletters for Meeting Facilitators

For a few years now I have been a subscriber to these two e-newsletters, which each provide regular concise and useful tips for planning and facilitating productive meetings, right to my inbox. Helps keep my skills fresh. I recommend you subscribe to both.

Coffee Break

Coffee Break is an insightful monthly newsletter from Beatrice Briggs, Director of the International Institute for Facilitation and Change (IIFAC).  Articles are short with tips on how to improve your meetings.  

Subscribe here

Good Group Decisions

Craig Freshley’s mailing list for GoodGroupDecisions.com is sent every week or so. Craig has professionally facilitated over 2,000 meetings and his tips always include both sound principles and practical advice.

Subscribe here

 

 

 

 

Town Hall Meetings Fail

Town Hall Meeting

In my professional opinion, a town hall meeting where people determine long term infrastructure decisions by popular vote, is not a recommend public engagement process, because:

  • participation requires public speaking (which is feared by about 75% of the population)
  • only a tiny fraction of the participants will be heard
  • participation is commonly not representative of the range of stakeholders affected
  • the social dynamics of crowds and public debate often appeal to emotions and thus reduce consideration of facts and information most pertinent to infrastructure decisions
  • hand raising to vote can put neighbours in conflict over opinions that could otherwise be kept private
  • where more than two options are presented, vote splitting can cause a minority preference to win (using typical single-choice voting)

Generally, I recommend authorities implement infrastructure upgrades that best compliment their policies and professional best practices.  Where there are competing trade-offs between options, and a better understanding of public opinion (community values and priorities) would be helpful, a private online survey based on easily understood information is my recommendation.  Surveys can record respondent information to make apparent representativeness among the range of stakeholder types (e.g. age, postal code, travel modes transit/motorist/cyclist/pedestrian).

A public drop-in event can also provide opportunities for face-to-face discussions with staff over drawings to help stakeholders understand the options. Stakeholder workshops and citizen reference panels are also recommended where much deeper understanding and deliberation is needed.

 

Icebreaker Game / Team Building Activity: “My Skills Club”

I created the following icebreaker game with an aim to get people talking to each other, and to also get people to talk about their own skills and the skills they share, which can be useful towards team building and staff self-awareness.  It’s fun, easy to prepare and provides useful outputs of lists of shared skills among participants. Alternatively, you could do the activity not about skills but about other shared characteristics, but skills makes sense for team building type workshops.

My Skills Club

Instructions to participants

  1. Silently write a list of your top three work related skills on a cue card.
  2. Wander around the room seeking individuals you have never met and ask them if they share any of your skills.
  3. If they don’t, smile and move on.
  4. If you do share at least one skill, you can now form a club. Together look for others to join your club who have the same shared skill.
  5. Skills can be worded slightly differently.  Skills should not be too generic e.g. “writing emails” or “making phone calls”.
  6. If you can find other individuals with two or three of the same skills, you can choose to break off and form a new more exclusive club.
  7. Goal is to form the largest club with the most shared skills.
  8. Clubs will get points for every club member x shared skills across the club. E.g.
    9 members with 1 shared skill = 9 points
    5 member with 2 shared skills = 10 points
    4 members with 3 shared skills = 12 points
  9. Countdown 5 minutes to finish.
  10. The Club with the most points gets chocolate for all members!

 

To help explain the process, I did a 1 minute demonstration with three accomplices with prepared cue cards.

 

It worked very well with lots of laughs and light hearted on topic conversations.

 

Online Survey ‘Page Randomization’ feature is Expensive

I did some research and it seems only premium pay packages for online survey tools provide the “Page Randomization” feature. Here are the results of my research:


Tool

Price

page randomization?

FluideSurveys

$59 /m or $588 annum = $49/m  ULTRA

yes – ULTRA account only

SurveyMonkey

$348 anum = $29/m GOLD

yes,  GOLD account only

SurveyGizmo

$75 /m PRO

yes –  PRO account only

questionpro

$99 /m  PRO

yes,  “block randomizeer”-  PRO account only

InstantSurvey

$99 /m PRO

probably not – PRO does random questions , nothing else “random” in Features

Google Forms

free

no, randomize questions only

PollDaddy

free for 200 responses, $29 /m

no, randomize questions only

LimeSurveys

free open source

no, randomize questions only

Geraldton 2029: Amazing Example of Deliberative Democracy Documented

Geraldton 2029 logoAfter watching the 7 minute video of Janette Hartz-Karp describing a sustainability initiative in Geraldton, Australia, I was curious to see what techniques they used to enage the public in long term local planning. What I found is the 2029.civicevolution.org online system for sharing and rating of ideas and their specific talking points (note the Dotmocracy-like 5 point rating of acceptance per a talking point). 

I also see they turned all their notes from various in person events and surveys in to a searchable database, which provides accessible transparency. It would be nice to see some attempt at prioritization in the responses within the database, such as using a Dotmocracy process on the responses by a sample of the public.

A list of all their events and various reports are availabe too on their Past Events page.

Overall seems like a great example of a multi-modal approach to engaging citizens in long term planning and it sounds like a success story, according to Janette.  One important point she stressed is the importance of telling participants what will be done with their input and how it will impact decision-making, which is key for buy-in and commitment. 

 

Examples of Wise Democracy Using Random Citizens

Here is a great article by George Sranko that describes a variety of success stories using random citizens to give direction to government.

“There are two key ingredients: direct involvement by a representative cross-section of the entire community, province, or nation through random selection of citizens; and dynamic facilitation that empowers the group to reach a unified perspective via creative shifts and breakthroughs, rather than through the usual back-and-forth negotiation.”

Read the full article:

MindMixer.com – Another idea rating system

MindMixer.com is a new web app + service designed to act as a “virtual town-hall” for municipal engagement. It includes idea rating, commenting, voting and a user score system designed to reward frequent contributors. Its a US base company marketing the tool specifically to community leaders and elected officials. Seem like a cool tool, although I’d assume like any open invitation approach (including traditional town halls), the prioritization of ideas is open to manipulation through strategic online campaigning by large groups. Check out the intro video below.

 

Mind Mixer from protokulture on Vimeo.

BetterMeans.com: democratic governance model and web app

snapshot of Bettermeans.com BetterMeans.com has recently released a web based “open and democratic project management tool”, and it looks very promising.  Along with basic tools like a wiki, discussion boards and document storage, it has array of tools for collectively prioritizing tasks, estimatating work item complexity, reviewing work, allocating compensation, and voting on motions.  The entire system seems to be built around a set of values that enforce and promote transparency, accountability, cooperation, pragmatism, and distributed leadership.

I could imagine it working with open source developers, maybe some collaborative scientists, activist collectives, and dnew not-for-profits.  I look forward to seeing how this tool evolves, what kinds of groups use and what for.