Moving Beyond "Town Brawls"

The health care reform town halls are just the latest evidence that traditional forms of public engagement are no longer effective and in fact can be counterproductive, writes Sandy Heierbacher.
August 30, 2009, 1pm PDT | Michael Dudley
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Heierbacher suggests that the vitriol at the now-notorious town hall meetings is not so much owed to the substance of the legislation, but to a sense that people feel excluded. As as result, these sessions are getting co-opted and turned into gripe sessions, fueling frustration.

Instead, new forms of engagement are needed -- and much earlier in the process, instead of when an issue has reached "crisis mode" as is the case with health care. She writes,

"Dozens of effective public engagement techniques have been developed to enable citizens to have authentic, civil, productive discussions at public meetings-even on highly contentious issues. These techniques have names like National Issues Forums, Study Circles, 21st Century Town Meetings, Open Space Technology, and World Cafe, to name just a few. When done well, these techniques create the space for real dialogue, so everyone who shows up can tell their story and share their perspective on the topic at hand. "

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Published on Friday, August 28, 2009 in Yes! Magazine
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