Some Thoughts on Improving Public Participation in Omaha

29 May

By: Angela Eikenberry

I was asked to take part last week in a panel on public participation organized by the Greater Omaha Young Professionals. It was great to have the chance to think more about and discuss this topic.

TMP public mtgOur experience at Mode Shift Omaha over the past few years is that many people are interested in getting engaged and are willing to show up for public planning and project events that are well publicized and have a clear goal or agenda. Unfortunately, we’ve also been frustrated by the difficulty of finding out about meetings and attending meetings that can seem at times meaningless and/or unclear in focus and intent.

Given this, some areas I’d like to see improve, and that could lead to more and better public participation, came to mind as I prepared for the YP event:

  • More transparency in the process:
    • Public meeting information needs to be publicized far in advance and in one location on the City’s website.
    • Information needs to be provided about how, when and by whom decisions are made. It should also be clear how project implementation aligns with these decisions and if it doesn’t, citizens need to be given reasons for why this is the case.
    • Information about what happens at meetings, presentations, and handouts needs to be provided on the City’s website. This site could also allow citizens to make comments easily and for extended periods and these comments should clearly receive serious respect and consideration, including receiving a response from City administrators.
  • Better run meetings:
    • There needs to be good management of meeting processes, beginning with a clear vision of a project articulated from City leadership, how it fits into a bigger picture, and a clear way of communicating what the project is and how it will move forward, where community involvement actually is necessary and how the design teams intend to respond, whether the public engagement is a presentation of already decided upon design work, or whether the design work is intended to be influenced by feedback from the public.
    • During meetings attendees should be provided with a chance to dialogue with City administrators.
    • There should be adequate equipment (such as microphones) and project information available during meetings to maximize the quality of participation.
  • Enhanced engagement with diverse communities:
    • More needs to be done to engage under-represented communities in the Omaha-area by enabling them to participate via additional outreach and alternative means.
    • Current transportation minority groups (such as cyclists, pedestrians or transit users), should be encouraged to participate and not vilified for providing alternative points of view.

Public participation is essential for creating a strong and engaged community; it’s also the right and responsibility of citizens in a democratic society. We know that in part the resources City administrators need to do the above adequately are not sufficient. If we’re going to take citizen participation seriously in Omaha—and I think we should—we need to invest in it. Mode Shift Omaha, and no doubt other groups interested in public participation, are also here to help.

What do you think we should do to improve public participation in Omaha?

One Response to “Some Thoughts on Improving Public Participation in Omaha”

  1. Braden Bills September 13, 2016 at 7:19 am #

    I think it’s good to see that public involvement is a goal. It’s something that’s pretty important if you want to get the opinions of everyone! You wouldn’t want to have to worry about some people not having a voice!

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