We had a great time at the MO APA conference last week. Over the next few weeks we will be addressing some of the questions that came up during the sessions we attended. Feel free to post additional questions or comments.
During the various sessions on public engagement, there were a number of examples offered of online options that organizers can use to draw a broader audience into a planning dialogue. These included online meetings, blogs that allow for comment, and surveys. Surveys can be particularly useful, both at the outset and during a process, because they provide a common set of data that reflects how community members are thinking and this data can be used both to frame issues and promote a productive dialogue. Survey Monkey is a very well designed and inexpensive on-line survey tool that we use regularly. When you sign up for an account on Survey Monkey, you gain access to a variety of survey templates that can be easily customized for your specific needs. Once you have designed a survey, you can use both survey logic and different collectors to segment the data into neighborhoods, regions, or whatever aspect of the data is salient to your specific needs.
Blogs are also a great tool for building a conversation around issues. There are many free blog sites and we think WordPress is one of the best. You can register a number of blogs for free and the management interface is simple and easy to learn, even for those who have difficulties with computers. Once a blog is built, WordPress automatically filters spam comments and the discussion settings are built to make moderation simple. While it is possible for users to make anonymous comments, you can set up your blog so that ALL comments must be approved or require a commenter to have at least one comment approved before posting consistently. These options can help to ensure that comments are related to the topic at hand and that ground rules for productive dialogue are observed. In our next few posts we will talk about dialogue structures that help keep in-person meetings focused and productive, even when significant conflict is present.