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  • Writer's pictureBarb Bickford

How do you gather shared public input during a pandemic?

Updated: May 6

In my last post, I mentioned gathering a shared list of “Guiding Principles” to guide the future of a lake and park in our city. In this post, I explain more about these principles and how we gathered meaningful input from the public during the pandemic.

Simply put, our "Guiding Principles" are statements that describe what people want to happen, worded in ways everyone can support. The statements need to be general enough to catch one person's intention without including details that others would object to.

Note: "Guiding Principles" is the term the group sponsoring this project preferred. You could also use terms like “criteria” or “standards." What you call them matters much less than what you do with them.

By inviting a group to create statements like these, we both demonstrate care for the concerns and needs of each individual and we invite trust in the decision-making process. Creating a common list of statements also helps a group to begin to assume responsibility for finding solutions that meet all the concerns and needs.

Let me give you an example of creating a Guiding Principle. In our project, we are deciding how best to enjoy and care for a park at one end of a small lake. Many people say they would enjoy walking around the lake. However, people who own lakeshore homes don’t want the public walking through their yards.

After a number of iterations, we settled on this guiding principle: “Develop walking opportunities in the park and around lake neighborhoods, while preserving and respecting private property rights.” We believe that both walkers and landowners can support this principle.

The Guiding Principles for our park and lake address a wide variety of subjects, such as invasive plants, the park playground, outdoor gathering spaces, noise, fishing, litter, access and safety. The entire list is on page 4-1&2 of this report.

You may be wondering how we gathered and worked with Guiding Principles during the pandemic. Here’s how:

  • We invited input safely. During the summer of 2021, we gave out paper surveys, posted the survey online and held eight outdoor “driveway gatherings” in neighborhoods around the lake. We asked people how they wanted to care for and enjoy the park and lake. Over 200 responded and/or came to the gatherings.

  • We drafted statements that we hoped everyone could support. Members of the Friends group and I met online to review the statements. We sorted them under six broad topics. This helped us to recognize differences among the statements and to resolve those differences.

  • We tested for support. In November 2021, at public meetings (one in person and two online), we shared the Draft Guiding Principles and asked specifically for concerns and minority views. During and after those meetings, we adjusted the wording to address the concerns that were raised.

  • We published the list of Guiding Principles online and invited more comments. We continue to revise the wording, as needed. Our intention always is to incorporate concerns so that everyone can support the Guiding Principles.

Gathering Criteria is the first of the three basic steps of Convergent Facilitation, an effective and efficient process for making collaborative decisions. The other steps are Creating Proposals and Evaluating Proposals. To learn more about Convergent Facilitation, read this one-page introduction or visit this website.

In my next post, I share how we gathered and evaluated literally hundreds of proposed ideas for the park and lake.

This blog is the second of three about our CF process. Read the first post, "From Community to City," here and the third post "How do you evaluate hundreds of ideas at once?" here.

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