Archive for January, 2011


A Very Different Kind of Citizen Involvement

January 17, 2011

I’ve been following with interest a new development at Metro, an ‘optin’ public opinion panel.

I signed up last week and would encourage you to as well. But it’s different.

The traditional model of citizen involvement in planning looks like:

  • Notification by mail and electronic media
  • “Open house” style meetings and written reports to inform the public on the background facts, issues and choices
  • Written comments, meetings and sometimes more formal public hearings to gather input (sometimes filtered through a citizen advisory that attempts to be representative of various constituencies affected)

A public opinion panel is a different approach – as I understand the program it will attempt to pre-establish a large panel of folks who it is hoped will respond in the future (probably electronically) to some kind of survey instrument. If a sufficiently large base is built and is responsive then part of the benefit is to be able to create a respondent profile that is representative of the community, demographically, racially, age-wise, income-wise, etc.

I must admit, this gives me pause. The traditional process has more opportunity for the participants to shape the questions and politics, and allows for advocates to channel their passion into the process. But it also asks for a big time commitment from citizens to be effective, and risks vastly overweighting input from ‘the usual suspects’ and possibly giving better response to ‘the squeaky wheels.’

The opinion panel approach is likely to be more representative, but also more dispassionate (good and bad?). It also puts a lot of responsibility on whomever is writing and vetting the survey instruments.

I don’t know yet how Metro is going to use the opinion panel, I suspect it will be an added input, not a replacement for the traditional process.

I’ll look forward to seeing this experiment progress.