Public involvement and coalition-building professionals rightly spend a lot of time making sure that their public meetings and other engagement activities productively use stakeholders’ time within the context of the project.
But should we really be concerned about productively using stakeholders’ time within the context of their lives?
The average community volunteer has 70 minutes of unscheduled time in a week, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In other words, if we ask the average person to participate in a substantive way, we’re really asking them to invest all of their unscheduled time each week – and more – in meetings, staying informed, thinking about alternatives, representing special interest groups, etc.
At the same time, it’s the very rare public participation process that recognizes this and tries to compensate by providing ancillary services and support to make taking part easier.
And what would such a process look like if we acknowledged the sacrifice participants make up front and set as a goal compensating them financially or in other ways that account for their lost time?
For example, we might:
- Pay nominal amounts (like juror fees) to help defray related costs (babysitters, gas, etc.)
- Offer technical support (webcams and chat services) so that distance participation is possible at least part of the time
- Provide value-added activities (voter registration, community group info, etc.) at public meetings and events
These are just thought starters and, as such, open to expansion and criticism. But they serve to illustrate how our interaction with stakeholders might radically change if they and their lives were the starting point for our planning.