I’ve been accused of asking for advice and not taking it.
“Why did you even bother asking?” people say. This response always surprised me until I started working with clients on decision-making processes that involve the public.
It turns out that if you don’t explain what you plan to do with input before you ask for it, people assume all different expectations. Some think you will do exactly what they say even if they are the only one with their particular opinion. Some think you will go with the majority of public opinions without considering any other study or analysis. Some assume you won’t do anything with their opinion because you’ve already decided what to do and soliciting input is just a formality.
This is why when our clients need to decide the best way to use land in an environmentally sensitive area or whether to build a new road, we consult the IAP2 Spectrum of Public Participation to help determine what the public’s role in the decision should be, based on project goals, and what promises we can make to the public at the outset.
The spectrum includes five levels of involvement that increase respectively: inform, consult, involve, collaborate and empower. Goals and promises for each level of involvement are listed below.
Goal: Provide the public balanced and objective information to help them understand the project.
Promise: We will keep you informed.
Goal: Obtain feedback on analysis, options and/or decisions.
Promise: We will keep you informed, listen to and acknowledge your concerns and aspirations, and provide feedback on how your input influenced our decision.
Goal: Work directly with the public throughout the communication process to ensure that we consistently consider their concerns and aspirations.
Promise: We will work with you to ensure that your concerns and aspirations are directly reflected in the options we develop and we will provide feedback on how your input influenced our decision.
Goal: Partner with the public in every aspect of the decision making process.
Promise: We will look to you for advice and innovation in formulating solutions and we will incorporate your advice and recommendations into our decisions to the maximum extent possible.
Goal: Place final decision-making in the hands of the public.
Promise: We will implement what you decide.
Setting the right expectations before anything else helps the public give more relevant input and be more understanding when a decision is made. Relevant public input helps decision makers see additional or hidden considerations, build positive relationships with stakeholders and avoid lawsuits.
Has setting expectations before asking for input helped you in a decision-making process? Let us know about it in the comments.