How do you improve public engagement in your town so that the community has a voice in town policies and development plans?  You hold a drop-in session to consult with them on their current needs!

It was great fun facilitating a drop-in session last night with town leaders to support their public engagement activities.  Two of us, who are team members of Watertown Community Conversations, consulted with 4 town leaders on their current projects.   We talked about best practices of engaging the public and made several recommendations, such as:

  1. Clarify the desired outcomes of the community engagement process, beyond “getting public input”. That might include “educate the public on issue X”, “identify areas of agreement”, “identify areas of disagreement” (that you’ll probably want to devote more time to), identify who else needs to be part of the conversation.
  2. Determine who needs to be in the room.  Who are the people whose voices we usually don’t hear?  What are their interests?  What would it take to get them to participate?
  3. Make sure everyone feels heard.
  4. Make sure the decision making process is clear. Explain to the public how you’re going their input; to what extent will you implement their concerns and recommendations?
  5. Explain what consensus actually means, from “no, I absolutely disagree”, to “maybe, if you can answer some of my questions”, to “I feel heard, so I can live with the decision”, to “yes, absolutely”.
  6. Ask those who disagree, “What would it take for you to get on board with this decision?”

The town leaders found it a very helpful session.  Can’t wait to do it again in the fall!

Questions about public engagement?  Contact me: abby at