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Have you ever held a public meeting when just a few people showed up … and you were glad? If you are on the planning commission long enough, you are sure to have a range of public involvement experiences: carefully planned and publicized meetings when very few people come, and those you thought would not be of public interest where there was standing room only.
Designing and carrying out effective public meetings is an inexact, but important component of the planning process and should be taken seriously. Here are some guidelines that can help it work.
One technique does not fit all circumstances. Before planning your public involvement process, answer one simple but vital question: what is the purpose? If you want simply to inform people about a project, a "show and tell" meeting where information is presented may be all you need. While you must always allow time for questions, the focus of the meeting is on giving information to the audience.
Do you want to inform and also receive public comments? In that case, a meeting that begins with a presentation but is followed with breakout or small workshop-type discussions can be productive. Always avoid the unlimited question and answer free-for-all where only the most bold or opinionated will have their say. ...
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Elaine Cogan, founding principal of the Portland, Oregon planning and communications firm of Cogan Owens Cogan, has consulted for more than 36 years with communities undertaking strategic planning and visioning processes. Cogan has been honored for her work on a variety of citizen involvement projects.