Here’s a look at the emotional, ethical, and technical considerations regarding public engagement during this time:

Emotional considerations:

Now more than ever, planners need to consider decision fatigue. Normally easy or automatic decisions, such as when to go grocery shopping, now require careful consideration. Planners need to discern the necessity of each of their requests for the public’s involvement.

Despite decision fatigue, people desire to be engaged (effectively) now more than ever, according to two expansive surveys from Public Poll and Hill + Knowlton Communications Firm. In a time of uncertainty, people appreciate open communication from their local governments and desire to provide input on their communities’ actions.

Ethical considerations:

When seeking public input, consider the following questions: i) is it urgent? ii) is it important? iii) is it simple? iv) is it fair? and v) is it tone-deaf? Answers to these questions ensure that public engagement does what it ultimately aims to do – benefit the public – rather than become an additional burden. This is a time to prioritize.

Oftentimes, public participation remains in the “inform” end of the Public Participation spectrum instead of the “collaborate” and “empower” end. For example, currently the public receives information about COVID-19 statistics and reopening policies, but have not been empowered to share their perspectives with decisionmakers. A more empowered approach could look like a citizen working group, a group of residents with various knowledge sets who brainstorm and problem-solve with local government officials, thereby co-developing a reopening plan.

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