Public officials are busy, and the problems they deal with are complex. We find that no one has time to waste when making decisions, and that’s why the idea of public participation in decision making does not appeal to many public officials.
The key is to demonstrate how public participation is smart financial and political risk management. If the call for public participation is too late in a process and a decision has already been made, then no one is happy.
On the other hand, if the public’s voice is heard early in the decision making process, an organization can significantly reduce its risk of making the wrong decision and significantly increase the likelihood that the public will be an essential partner during implementation.
Magic happens when citizens get past what they believe and dig into why they believe it. At that point, citizens realize they share many similar values and goals, and when they don’t share the same goals, an honest conversation about why they differ will serve to inform all participants, and new ideas can emerge from those discussions.
Even surveys that get past “what” and start to dig into “why” don’t go far enough; if participants can see the answers on each other’s surveys after they’ve filled them out, they can use that as the starting point for a deeper discussion. That’s why open dialogue and deliberation are critical; that’s what AthenaBridge provides.
If public engagement is less painful for elected officials, they will be much more likely to ask for the public’s input– public engagement early in a decision cycle is good financial and political risk management.
We named our software company AthenaBridge– Athena is the goddess of wisdom and we believe that if our software can connect/bridge the wisdom of people with different perspectives, it will create an opportunity to learn from one another. Bridging these differences on a large scale is where public participation is headed.
Our eventual goal is to fine-tune this software so that it can be an essential component to face-to-face townhall meetings. An online townhall meeting should happen prior to the face-to-face meeting so people can vent and an elected official can address some of the distracting issues beforehand. This makes the face-to-face time that much more effective.
We’ve got a long way to go, but as we work with you, we’re getting some great experience on some really tough issues across the country! The software will evolve to meet the needs that we find together. Stay tuned for some more exciting pilot projects in the coming weeks.
Let us know– what features will make this software most useful to you?