Facilitating A Community Dialog On The Internet

<p>The City of Oak Harbor, Washington is giving residents a chance to sound off about planning and development issues on several blogs.</p>
April 10, 2008, 11am PDT | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"Oak Harbor City Planners Rob Voigt and Cac Kamak have voluntarily expanded their job duties to create an inviting cyber-environment where residents can engage in open and candid discourse on local issues.

Using the Internet as a conduit for information, the two city employees developed options for augmenting public outreach and education. Through blogging, they have created an outlet with multifarious benefits for citizens. Residents can sound off on a variety of proposed amendments or city projects while being inadvertently educated through in-depth and sometimes tangential exposition.

"This way you address more issues," Voigt said. "The overriding common themes are facilitating public engagement, communication through multimedia and ‘action research' where participants guide the process."

Blogging is essentially a chronological, electronic journal that allows users to post opinions, suggestions or simple thoughts at their leisure.

"It's like a virtual, on-demand city hall," Kamak said. "People can chime in at anytime and have their issues addressed."

The sites eventually take on a life of their own as postings grow like branches on a tree, each contribution guiding the discussion in different directions.

"A blog establishes two-way conversation through the Web," Kamak said. "Phone conversations or face-to-face interaction are usually specific worktime events. Blogs can be used whenever someone has time. It removes the need to be in the same place at the same time."

Updated regularly and monitored by staff, Voigt has seen his subdivision blog - accessible at www.cohsubdivisions.blogspot.com - receive an increasing number of participants or hits compared to typical public hearings or workshops. People often observe and process the information before taking the plunge and offering their own views.

"As the safe and honest nature of the discussion is established, more of those people will begin posting comments of their own, thereby beginning the community dialog," the planner said."

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Published on Wednesday, April 9, 2008 in Whidbey News-Times
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