Overflow at civic meetings doesn’t have to mean silence

February 13th, 2013  |  Published in Civics, Ideas

This is an “inspiration” that I posted as part of the 2013 Knight News Challenge.  The original post is here.

Public meetings are a fundamental means of civic participation in the United States.  However, in cities like Chicago, meetings can be notoriously overcrowded causing participants to have to wait in line, sit in overflow areas or be locked out. In other cases, public comment can be monopolized or sidetracked by a few outspoken participants or tensions (or real threats) can intimidate people from speaking publicly. Economic mobility, physical ability, childcare needs and differences in language can also impede participation in public comment.

Digital technologies offer an opportunity for officials, advocates and journalists to enage people in public comment in real-time, in a physical place, or to connect participants across barries of geography, ability and time.  They also offer a parallel means of public comment that can act as a sort of A/B test for existing forms of public comment. Who participates through digital parallels who doesn’t in the big room of a civic forum? What topics, questions or concerns are surfaced through digital parallels that aren’t raised at the microphone? In this way, communities deploying digital technologies for forum participation don’t aim to replace time-honored methods of civic engagement, but instead gather insight into ways to improve in-person events.