Research on Best Practices in Other Communities

Northampton’s Ad-Hoc Committee on Best Practices is circulating this research memo for public review. It includes an exploration of how other cities bring the public into their decision-making. You can download this memo as a PDF (which will let you copy the text and click the links).

Here is the date and location of the next meeting of the Best Practices Committee:

September 25, 2008
6:30 PM
Human Resources Department Conference Room
Memorial Hall, 2nd Floor (use side entrance alongside Unitarian Church)
240 Main Street, Northampton, MA 01060

See also:

Best Practices Ad-Hoc Committee Home

Video: Best Practices Forum Studies Evolution of Meadows Plan
The purpose of this event is to record the story of what many consider a difficult but largely successful public process told by the people who made it happen.

Best Practices: Pictures and Video from the May 13 Public Forum
Inviting written comments was a good way to let a large number of
people express themselves on a wide array of subjects in a relatively
short period of time. This and other facilitation techniques at the
forum might be useful in other kinds of public meetings as well. The
conversation continues at the Best Practices Google Group, open to all.

Transcribed Public Comments from the Best Practices Forum of May 13


*Need for public dialogue * recognition during meeting of
members of the public *perception that considerable deliberation happens
outside of public view *no ad hominen attacks *lets have less obstructionist
political maneuvering and move to enact a 
vision of viability and progress rather than postponing more valid
public forums such as this one *too stuffy no fun *change rules governing
public comment * don’t mourn; organize—there are many opportunities to work,
participate, make your voice heard. Join neighborhood associations or form your
own. By organizing at the most local level you can make your views known
in a democratic way. * Public comment period is like talking into a void in
that resident input is not taken into account during decision-making * Ditto
*  City Council mtgs are structured such
that it feels our (citizens’) voices aren’t heard * needs to have role
independent of the administration *Include some discussion of schools when it
effects entire city. *Councilors need to model respectful behavior *Council
Committees doing “heaving lifting” on many issues. Public hearings don’t allow
for any process *Less conflict of personal & business interest, more
representation of residents voices, opinions & needs * ditto *we need real
discussions not presentations of what’s been decided. *Use Easthampton
model. Have Mayor sit in the audience and respond to questions if asked *Role
of chair for council meetings *needs to lead the city’s conversation. Council
needs independent legal advise. *No accountability & your words are not
important or material * need a “second” city council meeting time for public
discussion if possible *An open meeting is not necessarily a public meeting.
*Not enough notice in newspaper, not all of the committees are put in the paper
like the Human Rights Committee, too little critiicizism of the town hall
matters, fed up with constant propaganda, prettiness must go, need leadership
not constant kissing up * input is not dialogue, may need “new form” to expand
process so civic dialogue happens beyond city councilors & appt govt.
officials *citizens need to appreciate that they have chosen limits to their
participation by turning over decision-making to vote leaders thru democratic
process– *city committees are process rather than issue oriented. Members of
city committees have a responsibility to communicate activities and issues to
the public. Outward focus *Active citizenship- difference between citizens and
consumers-self government is a process not a commodity or a product *(Q) What
do we want to achieve as a society, and how can our government be a vehicle for
those ambitions?…

New York Times: “Report Says Public Outreach, Done Right, Aids Policymaking” (8/22/08)
…a growing body of evidence suggests that [public participation],
done correctly, can improve [environmental] policies and smooth their
implementation, according to a report [link] issued Friday by an expert panel
convened by the National Research Council.
Though critics often assert that members of the public are too ignorant
to weigh the science involved in environmental policies, “public
participation can help get the science right and get the right
science,” said Thomas Dietz, the director of the Environmental Science
and Policy Program at Michigan State University, who headed the panel.

“A lot of science has to be applied to a very local context,” he said in a telephone interview. “Local knowledge is essential.”