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There are many ways to draw citizens to public meetings and workshops. Although finding the right approach to specific planning issues is always a challenge, the basic tenet for success, applies regardless of whether we want to reach seniors, baby boomers, or Generation Xers. People will respond to an issue if they know about it and if they care about it.
It is helpful to the planning process if commission members represent a variety of community interests, and having people of various ages on the board is important. Still, the need for meaningful civic engagement in a democracy by a broad spectrum of the population is at least the same as ever, or perhaps more vital today when so many people seem turned off by government and tuned into their own affairs.
Generation Xers and their counterparts have many more ways to obtain and respond to information than their parents and grandparents. Acknowledging this reality, there are several keys to reaching and involving them in public events concerned with planning issues that may be different than trying to involve other populations.
- Ask yourselves and planning staff: what do people in their 20s and 30s need to know in order to participate, not what do you need to tell them? That is not as simple as it may seem. It involves putting yourselves in their shoes and realizing that this generation, possibly more than most, respond to public matters in a very personal way: what's in it for me or my family or possibly my neighborhood? The more narrowly you frame the issues to respond to these concerns, the more likely you are to get helpful responses.
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.