Today is my last day at PlaceMatters, and I’m taking some time to reflect on the last six years. My work here has ranged from the complicated (multi-tool GIS and spatial analysis) to the mundane (sticking labels on our equipment for meetings) in a pattern familiar to anyone working for a small non-profit or business. Since our inception, the nature of our work has changed as well, focusing more on advising and training agencies and organizations (building long term capacity) and less on organizing and running public participation events.
While many things have changed over that time (for example, I think the first time I helped run a keypad polling event at a meeting the keypads were the size of toasters and now they are the size of a credit card), there are a few constants as well. Some things that I’ve learned:
- A successful public engagement process is thought out clearly at the outset, but is flexible.
- Some people love technology.
- Some people love maps.
- The integration of many different channels of information into a public process is difficult, but seeing participants better understand the impacts of their choices (and sympathize with the agency staff who have to make difficult decisions all the time) is worth the effort.
- When running a public meeting, have a Plan B for everything. Also have a Plan C.
- Online and mobile technology are changing everything, and changing nothing, at the same time. Face-to-face interaction is still the best way to truly engage people in the decisions that impact their lives, in part because it helps establish trust and accountability. That said, a mobile phone poll gets a nugget of information from someone who otherwise wouldn’t be engaged at all.
- Some people hate technology.
- Some people hate maps.
- Our understanding of how the systems in which we live operate is getting better all the time–we have huge datasets and remote sensing and complex analysis and crowdsourcing–and whether something in a community works or doesn’t work still often depends on some ineffable quality we don’t yet get.
- Also have a Plan D.
Some food for thought.
For those of you that have not heard, I have taken a new position with Colorado State University as Director of their Denver Operational Initiatives. I’ll be working on a variety of projects, but will be focused primarily on CSU’s role within the partnership working on the redevelopment of the National Western Stock Show and Coliseum site. I am, of course, sad to be leaving PlaceMatters and our great partners and clients, but I’m also excited at the new opportunity.