AN OLD HAYFORK left on an old fence.

Engaging the Public 101

One size of engagement doesn't fit all, and not everyone wants to be "engaged".

In case the reference in the headline leaves some of you puzzled, 101 stands for a basic, first-year university class, or entry-level lessons.

On the second and fourth Mondays of most months I attend Council meetings in both Cache Creek and Ashcroft. They’re held one after the other and normally I have my choice of the six to10 seats set out in the public gallery.

The subject comes up every once in a while, but this week it came up casually at both meetings – the subject of making sure everyone is able to take part in a Council meeting.

Local governments and their operations are already geared to public involvement. Any Canadian citizen and resident can run for office in a local election. Afterwards, all municipalities are required to conduct their business in weekly or bi-monthly open meetings in which the public is always welcome to attend.

Thirty-some years of reporting on public meetings and working with special event committees has taught me that people will listen and get involved usually only when it involves them personally.

And then their first response is, “Why haven’t I heard about this before now?”

Truth is, the information has been out there, circulating, forever.

Still, there are those who feel that they need to offer incentives – money, prizes, better hours, etc. – to get people out.

The people who really want to be there will be there; the ones who are attracted by the incentives will come and warm a seat for the short term.

The best way to engage the public is to go OUT and talk to each and every one. Then show up at club meetings and public events and talk about it some more.

That’s unlikely to happen, because community engagement on this level is a full time job, especially when there are so many other distractions to hold our attention.

Total community engagement is what we all dream about, but everyone has different priorities, and not too many are willing to sit through an hour of government business, no matter how important.

Wendy Coomber is editor of the Ashcroft-Cache Creek Journal

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