Last week, I posted a thread regarding presentation of a document at a public meeting that was put together by a citizens' group. I'd like to back up and ask the more basic question:
What have been your experiences staffing citizens' committees? How successful? How'd you do it?
I've been staffing a committee for the past five months that will be making its first public presentation this week to the public. We've actually got a decent document and I think that it will make decent policy in the future. The actual workings of the committee weren't ideal, however, largely because we weren't sure how to deal with the public. We hired mediators/facilitators to help us (this is a committee dealing with zoning in montana, after all) and process was this: 5-10 minutes of public input at the beginning, 1 hour 45 minutes or so of work, 5-10 minutes of public input at the end. By the third meeting, of course, anybody who wasn't on the committee quit coming because they were pissed off they couldn't talk. The meeting this thursday is going to be an open forum for some of these folks to sound off on the process.
How could we have done it differently? How do you manage general public comment with a group when you also need to accomplish something? If we had opened it up to everyone, all the time, we never would have gotten anything done; yet by setting groundrules on when people could talk, and then sticking with them, we alienated many people.
How have others dealt with this in the past? This is the part of planning that fascinates me- providing a forum that allows people to have (relatively) fulfilling/(relatively) non-confrontational/(relatively) comfortable interactions with local government- and I'm going to be seeking out this type of work in the future. How have others dealt with these situations?