Developers, utility companies, project sponsors, and government entities are often faced with the challenge of sharing plans for their next project with the community, or communities, that will host them. One of the many methods used to share that information is a public meeting.
While the concept may seem simple, the execution can be challenging, and fraught with peril.
The residents in these host communities often have a personal interest in the project. Land use, environmental considerations, and quality-of-life concerns spur emotional reactions. The lack of publicly available information before the meeting can create false assumptions about the project. And technical details can be especially challenging to break down for large groups of attendees.
Knowing all this, how can your organization better execute its next public meeting? Follow these steps:
- Be accessible: Plan multiple meetings at different times, over multiple days, that will allow the maximum number of people to attend. If someone wants more information on your project and they can’t get to your meeting to learn about it, you’re creating future opponents. Plan the meeting in an easily accessible place and make it simple for people to get the information they need.
- Assemble your best team: No one is an expert on everything, and that is especially true of project development teams. It is absolutely critical that you bring your best subject-matter experts to the meeting. Stakeholders are smart. They know their community and they will want to speak to people who know the project inside and out. For most meetings this means bringing a team that can speak about land acquisition, environmental and permitting concerns, engineering and project design, construction techniques, and economic impact.
- Play one-on-one: Set up stations around the room. Staff them with experts and stock those experts with information. Allowing people to have one-on-one conversations with project experts will allow them to get direct, face-to-face information. It will allow them to ask questions and get feedback, and it will allow them to learn from other people’s questions. Creating this type of meeting also diffuses some of the emotion that is generated when people are allowed to stand in front of a microphone.
- Be flexible and smart: There are times where presentation and open question-and-answer sessions are needed. To provide the most informative experience for attendees, these sessions must be executed with care and consideration. People want information. They do not appreciate canned comments from the project sponsor or its potential detractors. To avoid a bad outcome, your project must prepare, set up the meeting for the delivery of factual information, and maintain control of the room. There are several ways to accomplish these goals, and Mower is here to help you achieve the best possible outcome.
- Follow up: Ask people to sign in to the meeting. Have comment cards at every station; follow up on any question that doesn’t readily have an answer. These are people that voluntarily came to learn more about your project, so provide that information and open a dialogue.
Mower has been helping clients successfully plan and execute public outreach for more than 30 years. If you are interested in learning more about how we can help you with a public meeting or community engagement project, contact Andrew Rush or John Lacey.