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Public Involvement Techniques

Foreward  |   Table of Contents
Chapter 1  |   Chapter 2  |   Chapter 3  |   Chapter 4  |   Index of Techniques

4. Using Special Techniques to Enhance Participationskip page navigation

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4.B - Changing a Meeting Approach
4.B.a - Improving Meeting Attendance
4.B.b - Role Playing
4.B.c - Site Visits
4.B.d - Non-Traditional Meeting Places and Events

4. Introduction
4.A
4.B
4.C
4.D

4.B - Changing a Meeting Approach

People are almost always "too busy" to attend meetings. Low attendance occurs even when agencies have made heroic efforts to get people involved in regularly scheduled meetings or well-publicized special events. Practitioners feel like Sisyphus, endlessly rolling the stone uphill. When people do turn out, the meetings themselves may seem stale or lifeless and their discussions unfocused or of little use. Repeated discussions of narrow issues often frustrate participants, especially if they do not lead to progress. Yet meetings remain a basic, low-cost way for people to get involved in transportation planning and project development. In one room, during one limited time period, participants represent many viewpoints and interests, including those that have been traditionally underrepresented.

A modest shake-up can inject new life into a dying public involvement program. For instance, a change in meeting place often changes people’s perspectives as well—and may attract new participants because the new setting is more convenient or interesting. Changing the dynamics of the way people interact at meetings allows different viewpoints to emerge. Alternating group leadership or assuming different roles also helps spark new enthusiasm and fresh thinking. Novelty, however, becomes routine if repeated, and change for the sake of change is seldom effective. Diverse meeting approaches should be purposeful elements of an overall plan or respond to identified problems.

Before changing a meeting approach, an agency can work with participant advisors to shape a more effective program and give them greater ownership and pride in the process. If they do not like a new approach, participants may offer alternatives more suitable to the community’s needs.

Rather than giving in to discouragement over low turnout, then, agencies can take special measures to boost attendance and improve the quality and productivity of meetings. The following techniques—some tried-and-true, others more innovative—offer several options for changing a meeting approach and getting more people involved in meaningful ways:

  • Improving meeting attendance;
  • Role playing;
  • Site visits; and
  • Non-traditional meeting places and events.

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For more information about the TPCB program, contact Michelle Noch at FHWA (202-366-9206) or John Sprowls at FTA (202-366-5362).

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