Dr. Larry Schooler is the father of two and husband of one. He is also a mediator, facilitator, consensus builder, and public engagement consultant. He spent eight years developing and overseeing the public engagement division for the City of Austin, one of the first of its kind in the country. He is now director of consensus building and community engagement at CD&P, a Texas-based consulting firm. He’s also a senior fellow at the National Civic League and the Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas, and a subject matter advisor for 100 Resilient Cities. He divides his time between Texas and Florida and enjoys long walks on the beach, long runs on marathon courses, playing the piano, and rooting for Houston sports teams. His first book, on public engagement in truth and reconciliation and how the public can help resolve big conflicts, is due out later this year.
- How important your mindset is when developing your public engagement strategy–a little open-mindedness goes a long way.
- Ways Larry gets people over common hurdles of the fear of public engagement.
- His tip on how to diffuse a situation at a public meeting where you feel a little uncomfortable
- Larry reminds us not to assume everything is fine just because no one shows up to your public meeting.
- Plus is your communication a preventative care visit or is it a trip to the emergency room?
[7:07] Why do water utilities need to participate in public engagement? “People who are affected by a decision ought to be able to affect that decision.”
[8:05] If you’re going to ask me to do something to change my habits or pay more for something or going to change the terms of the relationships we have as citizen or government, I think the outcomes are a lot better when the folks being affected are giving a chance to have a voice in it.
[8:44] Going to a primary care vs. emergency room. There may not be a ton of urgency or motive to go to the primary care doctor but it’s a much more cost-effective way to handle your health than waiting to have to go to the emergency room that is usually extremely time consuming, expensive, and can be traumatic.
[12:33] It’s about the abstract concept of trust building and the more concrete concept of relationship building.
[15:13] “I’m willing to support this because the process was fair.” A member of the public spoke at council and said that even though they didn’t agree 100% with the recommendations the utility was given to council, they were willing to support it because they could tell that the process had been fair, people had been given the opportunity to give input, and all the sides were taken into consideration.
[17:20] Go in with an open mind. Don’t begin a process with decisions made that you’re then going to ask the public to give an opinion on. That doesn’t mean that no decisions can be made because there will be areas that concern public health, public safety or finances that you can’t bend on completely. Only ask about the things that you would be influenced by what they told you. Make sure you then close the feedback loop and demonstrate what you did, based on the feedback you received.
[20:09] Most of the time when cities or public utilities are looking for feedback, people are presented with technical information that isn’t easy for everyone to respond to. Keep it simple and basic so you don’t create a barrier for someone to give feedback.
[23:21] Don’t assume just because no one shows up to your public meeting it means that everything is cool.
[25:52] When agencies have gotten it wrong. Project delays and cancellations cost the city 15 million dollars. If you hire out help, make sure you take the time to bring them up to speed on the culture of your community. This is why these things take time and you can’t wing them well. People see straight through that.
[30:48] Any way you engage, whether it’s a public workshop, a face to face meeting, a public hearing, someone online or text message is going to have limitations. The more you study and prepare ahead of time the better it will be. Let’s role play a post that’s supercharged and see how we would respond to it. We need to know what we’re getting ourselves into no matter what that medium will be. The timing of the message and timing of the involvement of the public.
[40:05] You don’t have to change your professional opinion or water down your expertise. Just keep an open mind and if there are decisions that haven’t been made or you have time to make, take pause to make a judgment until you’ve heard what the public has to say.
[40:32] Take the raw public data and the opinion of experts and give both to decision makers unedited.
[42:40] Hiring a public engagement professional can help you by providing coaching to deal with stressful situations and/or by creating a space for constructive dialogue to occur.
[43:03] Interject when you’re feeling uncomfortable. “I want to address your questions, but I’m feeling uncomfortable.”
[47:23] Public notices.. use the language you have to but example what you mean below in plain English.
TedxToronto: The antidote to apathy by Dave Meslin
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