I’ve worked with Delaney + Associates for about two months now, and I have a confession: I’ve had a bit of trouble so far explaining to friends and family what, exactly, we do. (Sidebar: That’s not really a great feeling when you’re a communications person.)
Until today, I haven’t been able to hit on a simple, one or two sentence explanation of public participation (P2), or public engagement. But this morning I had an a-ha moment. I’m taking the International Association for Public Participation’s (IAP2) Foundations training course this week and my awesome trainer (D+A’s own Jessica Delaney) distilled it plainly in two simple steps.
Public participation is: There is a decision that has not yet been made, AND there is a role for the public in helping make the decision.
It gets a bit more complicated from there, but at least I know what I’ll be able to say at parties from now on when someone asks me about what I do.
OK so now that you know what public participation is, what’s next in actually doing it? The short answer is making a detailed, step-by-step plan that outlines the who, what, when, where, why and how.
But the foundation to that plan, the starting point, is clearly articulating the decision that needs to be made. This “decision statement” should be a clear, single sentence outlining the decision itself, who is the decision maker and the timing for the decision.
Here’s an example of a decision statement: The Smallville school district (the decision maker) will select the location for a new elementary school (the decision) within the next six months (the timing).
This decision statement doesn’t actually say anything about involving the public in the decision-making process, because it’s meant to outline the project itself – not just the engagement portion of the project. But it’s an important foundation for the P2 process. If you can’t clearly identify the decision, it’s pretty difficult to ask for input.
I’ve been thinking about the decision statement like a topic sentence of a paragraph, a thesis statement for your research paper or even the lead sentence of a newspaper article – it can be tricky to articulate simply and concisely, but it’s vital to organize the rest of the process. The P2 plan can unfold once the decision has been identified.
Stay tuned for more highlights and insights from the IAP2 Foundations course all this week.