Successful Public Participation
Public participation will not succeed if it is not genuine—that is, if decisionmakers are using it as a way to sell a predetermined plan or solution and do not truly care about stakeholder concerns. Public participation is not a one-time event such as a public hearing.
Public participation processes fail miserably when they have been carried out as a one-way communication or are done behind closed doors or in an environment that promotes defensiveness, distrust, self-protection, or power-brokering. The most common pitfalls associated with public participation are processes that are too little, too late, or too negative or unsafe to be constructive to anyone, either the participants or the decisionmakers.
Successful public participation takes adequate time, resources, and flexibility. Public participation is constructive when all partaking listen to each other, make positive contributions, gain a deeper knowledge of the issue(s), and develop trust and respect for each other, even when there is disagreement.
As public participation continues to be initiated and carried out successfully, three things will likely occur: (1) more informed decisions will be made; (2) the skills to work cooperatively will be enhanced, thereby increasing civic capacity; and (3) the willingness of people to engage in public participation will increase because they found it to be a rewarding and safe experience.